Your Voice by Alison Malmon
April 3, 2014, 6:58 pm · Updated April 13, 2014, 7:36 pm·
T o the University of Pennsylvania,
As an alumna and mental health advocate, I was thrilled to recently learn the University would be taking swift, proactive steps to address mental health services and create a task force focused on that issue. I’m very grateful that you’ve shown such dedication to this important issue.
However, I was discouraged to hear that students wouldn’t be included on that task force, and I sincerely hope you will reconsider.
There is no better way to ensure you are meeting the mental health needs of students than to involve them in the conversation. Research shows that when students are in distress, they turn to each other first — before they seek out parents, teachers or professionals. No mental health strategy will be successful without students at the core. And although the task force plans to solicit student input, that is simply not enough.
You owe it to your students, their parents, your alumni and donors and future generations to adequately prioritize the student voice when discussing their mental health issues.
As you know, your students are incredibly intelligent and passionate. That’s why you accepted them into your university in the first place. That’s why I’m so proud to be a Penn alumna. They are intimately aware of the mental health challenges in your campus community and thus are perfectly suited to be at the center of this discussion. I have no doubt they will bring brilliant ideas and creative solutions for addressing mental health problems and supporting the mental health of their peers.
You have shown a longstanding dedication to mental health issues. In 2002, my junior year at Penn, you created a very similar Mental Health Outreach Task Force. I had the great honor of serving as a student representative on that body, and I wholeheartedly believe my peers and I contributed priceless insight during the conversation. Why? Because students are the ones dealing with these issues day in and day out. This isn’t just an extracurricular activity — it’s personal, so we put our hearts and souls into this work.
For me, this work has always been personal. When I was just a freshman, I learned what happens when a student doesn’t get the mental health services they need early enough: My only brother, Brian, also a student at a prestigious university, died by suicide.
Reeling from my loss and searching for an answer, I gathered together my fellow students to start a conversation about mental health. What started as a personal passion and commitment at Penn quickly grew into a national movement. I turned that small student group I started on your campus into the national nonprofit, Active Minds, Inc.
Ten years later, Active Minds is now supporting a network of thousands of student mental health advocates on more than 400 college campuses across the United States. And each and every day, I see the power of students to contribute to the conversation about mental health, to save lives and to transform how their colleges and universities are addressing mental health.
I would encourage you to look at your own peers and take note from those who are emerging as leaders in this arena. George Washington University included Active Minds’ student leadership on its task force to improve mental health services on campus and has made great strides in strengthening those services. The College of William and Mary has a student serving on its Health and Wellness Committee, a cross-collaborative group aimed at supporting well-being across the College.
In 2015, Active Minds will be awarding institutions that are showing true innovation and excellence in prioritizing student mental health and wellbeing. You have the opportunity to be on that list. Members of your Active Minds chapter on campus are definitely bringing their game. Go find them. Invite them to join your task force. And give me a call. I’d love to share what’s working on campuses across the country and lend a hand to your efforts to seize this important moment for progress.
I am a proud alumna and, just as I did in every game I attended as a Penn cheerleader, I’m rooting for us Quakers. Let’s make mental health a campus-wide priority and invite our students to lead the way.
Proud Penn Alumna, CAS 2003
Executive Director and Founder of Active Minds