By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A non-profit born on University of Pennsylvania’s campus is celebrating 10 years tonight at the place where it all began. The group raises awareness about mental illness among a uniquely vulnerable population.
Active Minds encourages college students to speak openly about mental health. With 400-plus chapters nationwide and more than a dozen in Philadelphia, founder Alison Malmon says the goal is to reduce mental health stigma and start the conversation early.
“Anxiety and depression are the two health issues that students talk about the most that impact their ability to thrive on campus,” says Malmon. “Students can really find themselves in a situation that they are not used to: they are on their own for the first time, in a new environment, sometimes far away from home.”
Malmon started the organization at University of Pennsylvania after her older brother, Brian, also a college student, committed suicide. He had been suffering from depression and psychosis, but kept his symptoms from family.
“One-in-four adults has a mental health disorder, which means that every family is touched by this,” says Malmon. “But we just don’t talk about it.”
Roughly 1,100 college kids commit suicide every year, according to Malmon, and nearly half have suicidal thoughts. National Institute of Mental Health stats show that three-quarters of all mental health disorders surface by age 24.
“No one wants to talk about mental health at all. It’s a scary topic; no one knows anything about it and there’s a lot of stigma attached to it,” says Jon Kelly, 22. He is president of the Active Minds chapter at Saint Joseph’s University and says there are a lot of misconceptions about mental illness among young people, especially with national tragedies in Sandy Hook and Colorado, involving college-age killers.
“You think society is going to treat you as someone scary or psycho and avoid you if you are someone with a mental health issue,” he says. “That’s not the case at all. There are so many people with a mental illness that have lived normal lives and that’s what we try to tell people”
Kelly says his chapter holds film screenings and other events throughout the year. He says they only have about 25 active members, but their reach is beginning to show.
“Counseling is not about being chained down and sedated,” he says. “Once people realize that, more and more people will be willing to go get help.”
Active Minds’ 10-year anniversary celebration is tonight at 5:30 at Penn’s Van Pelt Dietrich Library.
For more information or to start your own chapter, go to activeminds.org.