MAY 28, 2015 BY THE TRIANGLE NEWS DESK
May is both National LGBTQ Awareness Month at Drexel University and National Mental Health Awareness Month. With that in mind, The Triangle interviewed 21-year-old volunteer speaker for the organization Minding Your Mind and Drexel University business marketing major Andrew Bergman to learn more about what is best for an individual’s mental health.
The Triangle: Can you give a description of what Minding Your Mind does and what you do as a part of the organization?
Andrew Bergman: Minding Your Mind was founded in 2006 outside of Philadelphia, and the mission statement of the organization is to reduce this stigma surrounding mental health. We do that by sending young adult speakers to middle school, high school and university community groups around the country to talk about their journeys with their mental health.
We’re all professionally trained public speakers; we have a staff and a total of nine speakers. We all cover a different variety of topics. This year we’ve given 790 presentations, so I speak about two to four days a week. And sometimes [the schools we visit are] on the East Coast, sometimes we have to travel, so we go to whatever school requests to have us.
AB: I was actually very fortunate in that they found me — it really was crazy how it happened. Simply put, they chased me down the hallway and handed me a business card and said, “Have you ever considered getting into public advocacy before?” At that time I was a senior at high school, I went to St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia, and I had gone through some mental health struggles throughout high school, where for about six years I self-harmed, and I had two suicide attempts.
TT: What makes Minding Your Mind so important to you?
AB: These suicide attempts were things that I didn’t think that I would survive, and when I did I felt this immense amount of guilt and shame because of the stigma surrounding mental health and because of that I kept it inside: I didn’t want to tell anyone, I wanted to keep it this secret. But then I realized that I was never going to get better unless people started to know the truth. And so, my junior year of high school, it was just one year and one month after my second attempt, I stood up in front of my high school, 1,200 boys in suit coats and ties, and from the outside they looked like they had the perfect life, and I just kind of told them what I had gone through. And that’s when I really felt like recovery was beginning because I felt like I could be honest about who I was, and I could not only talk about my story, but I could use my story as a way to help others.
That’s when I really decided that I wanted to get into this advocacy. I started training with them in high school, I gave my first presentation ever when I was still in high school and then I went out to California for college. After a year I decided to transfer back [to Philadelphia] and they said you know, if you ever want to get back involved, please let us know. So I got back in touch with them, and I started speaking for them a lot beginning fall of last year.
It’s really just such an important thing for me because I suffered in silence. My second attempt was on New Year’s Eve, and it was very symbolic that I didn’t want to live to see another year. Because of that, because I understand how that feels, I don’t want any kid to feel that way, to feel the way that I have felt. I have found that talking about it is the best way of doing so. On average, I’ll have between 20-50 kids wait behind to speak with me individually. We have a text-in question thing where they can text in to an app, and we get anywhere from 150-500 questions on there. It really shows that these kids want to talk about it. This area has been struck with many suicides in the past couple of months, and it’s important that we start to bring this conversation alive.
TT: So why is mental health awareness a big deal for college students? Do you as a speaker focus on college students, or all students in general?
AB: We focus on students in general, but because I am a college student, I really find it important to talk about [it] on campus.
Statistically, 25 percent of the world’s population will suffer from a mental health condition, and 20 percent of youth 13-18 suffer, which is one in five kids. Among college kids, suicide is the second leading cause of death. That’s a staggering number. But for some reason, even though it’s so prevalent, people don’t want to talk about it. You go to orientation, and the first week they talk about if your friend gets too drunk you send them here, if your friend does this, if they need whatever kind of testing, this is where you go. But nobody ever says you’re away from home, you may be a little stressed out, here’s a place where you can go, and there are people here that are willing to help you and you’re not alone in this. And I know that, based on a lot of people I’ve spoken to, people do feel like they don’t really have an outlet on a college campus, so for me, being at Drexel, I want to make sure that this problem is addressed.
TT: Can you speak a little bit about May being Mental Health Awareness Month and how Drexel is addressing that?
AB: So, May is known for both Mental Health Awareness Month as well as LGBTQ Awareness Month at Drexel. On the first day of May, there was a newsletter, I mean everyone got it, from the dean of students that said, we’re coming together to celebrate LGBTQ Awareness Month, and here are all of the events that are going to be taking place on campus throughout the month of May to support the LGBTQ community.
I was very impressed that they did that, that they’re really promoting this. And I was expecting them to somewhere along the month also send out another newsletter saying it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and that never happened. So I waited about two weeks, and I sent out an email to some of the people at Drexel, including the dean of students, speaking about the fact that I was incredibly disappointed in them. Being a mental health advocate, traveling around the country, speaking about mental health education, I’m good public relations for the University. I mention in every one of my talks that I’m a Drexel student. So for Drexel to not even acknowledge that it is Mental Health Awareness Month is incredibly disappointing. I’ve always said, I’m not willing to stand idly by while this university just stays quiet. There was an alleged suicide on campus three months ago, a freshman, and it hasn’t been talked about. It was sent out to all of the students that it was no foul play, or an accidental death. That doesn’t help this issue. That just keeps it tucked away in that closet. By the University not even acknowledging Mental Health Awareness Month, they’re doing the same exact thing.
TT: What do you as a mental health advocate hope to see Drexel do about awareness in the future?
AB: As an advocate, I hope that Drexel just acknowledges that it exists. When I was emailing them that was all I wanted them to do. I didn’t need them to bring me on to campus to speak because honestly I don’t want that; this is my university, this is where I go, I don’t want to be a speaker here. I just want them to have the same regard for LGBTQ Awareness Month, and Black History Month, and every other month of the year, the same as they do with Mental Health Awareness Month.
I have spoken at universities where they have been so proactive, where they’ve held so many events on campus. For example Towson University, I had a meeting with them the other week. I was so impressed by what they were doing. They built a new counseling center that is light and airy. It’s beautiful; it’s not tucked away in the corner of campus, which is typically where counseling centers are because they’re like the forbidden area. So, to see a university that is promoting it and really encouraging their students to seek help is what I want from my university, and right now I can’t say that I’ve seen any actions. I know that they’re getting the screenings, doing all those things but as a whole, the University isn’t acknowledging it, and that’s what I want.