What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
I was a freshman in college, a young 18-year old, when my world turned upside down. My older brother Brian, my only sibling, took his own life on March 24, 2000.
I became terrified, because I learned after his death that Brian had been experiencing signs of a mental health disorder since his freshman year of college, but only sought help for the issue in his senior year, and took his life just a year later. I also learned that although he was able to maintain a 3.8 GPA throughout his time on his Ivy League campus and become the president of the numerous activities in which he was involved, Brian's friends had indeed noticed changes in him through the years. But, not knowing what they were seeing, not knowing what to say, and truly not thinking it was their place to say anything, they didn't.
And Brian, we learned after the fact, also didn't understand what he was dealing with, that it wasn't his fault, that help was available and the earlier he sought help the more likely he would be to recover and, truly, that there was hope. So he tried to mask everything and "pull himself out of it" through his three and a half years on campus, during which we're all told is supposed to be the best time of our lives.
Thinking that life couldn't get any worse, Brian finally did seek help from his campus counseling center and took a voluntary leave of absence from school, which was the first time that my family learned anything about his struggles. But by then, Brian had truly lost hope - and, just after the four year anniversary of his first "break" and thinking that he would never regain the life he once imagined for himself, he took his own life.
It was Brian's experiences on campus, his friends' ignorance about their role in helping him, his lonliness and lack of understanding, and my recognition that Brian was definitely not the only student dealing in this way that led to my developing Active Minds on my campus in 2001. And it was the fast realization that students across the country were feeling the same pain, isolation, and implications of our society's stigma around mental health that led to the development of the nonprofit organization in 2003.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
As the founder and Executive Director of Active Minds, I am technically the social innovator behind this idea - but it is because of the incredible dedication, creativity, and ingenuity of my staff and our student volunteers that this idea has been so successful so quickly.
I majored in psychology and sociology in college, struggling to figure out what I could do with my degrees other than continue to graduate school. It wasn't until I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, just three years after my brother took his life, that I realized that I could make my passion and the program I had devoted my time to at Penn, my work. Upon graduating I spent a few months weighing the options for Active Minds, and decided to turn down the opportunities to make Active Minds a program within larger organizations, and instead keep it an independent organization so that the student voice in mental health truly was never lost. I have dedicated all of my time since graduation to Active Minds, and it has been my full time job since. Though it started in my bedroom in my shared apartment, and I had no salary for the organization's first year, I knew it would be a success. Just six years later, I am so proud of the work Active Minds has achieved, so thankful of the support we continue to garner, and so inspired by the dedication and intelligence of my staff and our volunteers. Though I wish every day that Brian was still with me, I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company