The Active Minds chapter at Gannon University will welcome national speaker Stacy Pershall to campus for a presentation about eating disorders, suicide and borderline personality disorders from 6 – 7 p.m. Thursday in the Schuster Theatre.
According to Jodi Giacomelli, Ph.D., associate director of Student Counseling Services at Gannon, the executive board members of Active Minds traveled to the Active Minds National Mental Health on Campus Conference in Washington, D.C., in November and attended a presentation by Pershall. The students were so moved by her words and story that they returned to campus vowing to bring her to Gannon, Giacomelli said.
Gannon’s chapter of Active Minds is only four years old and this marks the first time Active Minds has ever brought a national speaker to campus, Giacomelli said.
She also stated that last year was the first year Active Minds hosted PostSecretU and had Gannon alumna, Sarah Barthelmes, speak about her experience of living with a mental illness while a student here.
The essence of Pershall’s story embodies the very message of Active Minds. According to the organization’s website, Active Minds is the nation’s only nonprofit organization dedicated to utilizing the student voice to raise mental health awareness among college students.
Active Minds encourages people to “tell your story,” which the organization believes reduces the stigma often associated with mental illness. Once those stigmas are decreased, an individual is more likely to seek help. “She is a testament to the importance of seeking and sticking with treatment and counseling,” Giacomelli said. “She is now an accomplished author, teacher and speaker who inspires and educates others about mental health issues.”
Giacomelli said with all the amazing speakers in the Active Minds Bureau, members of Gannon’s Active Minds would like to make this an annual tradition at the university.
The group is expecting a great turnout, but Giacomelli stressed the numbers aren’t as important as being inspired.
“If just one student is touched by Stacy’s words and seeks help as a result, then this event will be a success in my eyes,” she said.
Giacomelli said this event is important because the average onset of most mental health disorders is 18-24 and 1,100 college students die by suicide each year, which makes it the second leading cause of death on college campuses, according to the Active Minds’ website.
She said that based on research, the best way to reduce stigma and increase help-seeking is through peer-to-peer outreach, which encompasses what presentations like Pershall’s are about.
Both Pershall’s and Barthelmes’ presentations are “educational and inspiring but also entertaining,” Giacomelli said.
Jenna Dunning, president of Active Minds and a senior psychology major and biology minor, said that many of the students who participated in PostSecretU this year wrote about eating disorders, suicide and mental illness.
The Active Minds members “hope that students attend the speaking engagement and have a new perspective of those living with a mental illness and if they have a mental illness themselves that they are able to be confident in themselves and no longer feel stigmatized,” Dunning said.
Copies of Pershall’s memoir will be available for purchase at the event. She will also be signing them after her talk. Following the discussion and signing, Active Minds will have refreshments and a meet and greet with Pershall in the lobby of the Schuster Theatre.