July 12, 2013

An Open Letter to the Stigma of Mental Health

Allow me to introduce myself to the blog's readership as the co-founder of Brozena, Inc., a shadowy organization spiritually seated deep in Virginia's farmland. I have been invited to share the ways of our wild successes. We are not the type that keeps score by number of employees or market cap, because we have neither. We vary in our abilities and pursuits. Our definitions of success are in all likelihood vastly different, and our motivations are probably dissimilar at best. But do set the table, because we have a tendency to bring a lot to it.

I would like the chance to tell you a story.

While I was in undergrad at Penn State, I learned that I had a bit more emotional variance than most of the neurotypical population. Bipolarity, a relatively common diagnosis at present, routinely
involves a set of seriously life-altering, widespread experiences. Its happenings leave much to be cleaned up, dealt with and understood among the self and others. Moods for those with bipolarity can be best understood like the weather: Strong and stormy at times, hopefully with the chance for prediction and understanding.

I eventually grew to a point of frustration feeling victimized by my diagnosis. So in 2010 I founded Penn State's chapter of Active Minds, a national not-for-profit organization whose stated goal is to
"empower students to change the perception about mental health on college campuses." Perfect antidote! I began by registering myself a table at the school's involvement fair and passing out flyers inviting people to talk about mental health. I still didn't really understand quite what we should be saying about it, but I knew intuitively that to be silent about it hurt a lot of people. So we began meeting now and then.

In our first year of existence, we brought the organization's flagship suicide awareness campaign, Send Silence Packing, to the freshmen dorms during a big parent visitation. We were quickly recognized by the national non-profit office as a 5-star ranking chapter. I was awarded two scholarships to pursue work on a design project that would allow for discovery of mental health resources in the community. And I was interviewed by the Associated Press. We had momentum within a year. And two years later, the group is still continuing to grow and reach out to the student population.

I started the group knowing that approximately a quarter of all 18-24 year olds could be diagnosed with a mental illness. The math was easy. There were tens of thousands of students at Penn State with thousands potentially affected. And no student organization to give them a voice.

All this to say: Take meaning from suffering, and purpose from meaning. Here's to really knowing what we are here for.