Alison Malmon Talks Changing the Discussion Around Mental Health

On Tuesday, March 5 in the Murray Student Center, Marist College students had the opportunity to attend a lecture regarding mental health with Alison Malmon, the founder and executive director of Active Minds. Active Minds is a non-profit organization with one mission: “changing the conversation about mental health.”

Malmon began her crusade against lack of education and awareness around mental health and illness as a result of the loss of her older brother, Brian, who took his own life when he was 22 years old. After Brian’s death, Malmon, who was 18 at the time, “wanted to give everybody a space to reach out as soon as possible,” and took the first step in creating what would eventually become Active Minds. The then college freshman created a club at her school, the University of Pennsylvania, with the ambition of educating her peers about the significance of taking care of their mental health. In the 15 years since Active Minds was officially established, the organization has grown tremendously: there are currently more than 450 active chapters of the organization on an array of college and high school campuses across the nation.

The lecture delivered by Malmon touched on a wide variety of topics. From providing students with her own backstory and explaining her passion for increasing awareness for mental health, to informing the audience on how crucial it is to get a conversation about this started, Malmon’s speech clearly struck a chord with the crowd. Several students were emotionally moved, some even to the point of tears. Others nodded solemnly as they processed what they were hearing.

Malmon prefaced the lecture by making students aware that if they needed to take a moment to go outside and collect themselves, they could. A counselor from the Marist Counseling office was also present if a student needed to speak to them. Malmon told the students in attendance that she believes that one of the reasons this lecture can be difficult to hear is because the fact that mental health is rarely talked about. According to Active Minds, “Fifty percent of us will experience a mental health condition in our lifetime.”

This, according to Malmon, needs to change.

“I think it is critical that we talk about mental health because we may not all have mental illness, but we all have mental health,” Malmon said. “Our mental health is just as important and real as other health issues and the only way we are going to start giving it the respect it deserves is by talking about it and really addressing our overall wellbeing and realizing that we only be our best selves if only our mental and our physical health is good.”

This general lack of willingness to discuss this crucial aspect of health has led to significant misconceptions regarding mental illness over the years. Though, as Malmon mentioned during her speech, the “stigma amongst students is low,” there are still significant misconceptions regarding mental wellness.

“I think one of the most common misconceptions is that mental illness is weakness and that seeking help is weakness,” Malmon said. “And, in fact, at least one in four to one in three students struggles with their mental health, which means that there is nothing wrong with you if you struggle, you are not alone, and seeking help is the biggest sign of strength out there.”

The event, which was organized by the Student Government Class of 2020, was intended to address these misconceptions and to generate a conversation about taking care of mental health. It is a topic, according to Class of 2020 President Eric Johnson, that the student population at Marist has deemed necessary to begin paying more attention to.

“Well asides from just the general student desire to have someone come and address these issues, we don’t necessarily know how to start talking about it,” Johnson said. “That’s why I think personally that Alison Malmon is perfect for that, because that is essentially what her entire organization is geared towards.”

Brian Greenberg, Treasurer of the Class of 2020, agreed.

“There are so many people that struggle with this issue,” he said. “May it be really affecting you on a day to day, or maybe just every now and then…one, people need to know that it’s okay to struggle with this and know what an outlet is, who they can speak to, where they can find resources, all that sort of stuff. And I think this event will really help with that.”

One of the chief takeaways from Malmon’s speech was that there is never a wrong time to seek professional help for dealing with a mental health issue.

“If you’re worried about a friend, or think that you may be struggling, the key is that you don’t need to wait until a certain point. Reach out to somebody that you trust and let them into your world and let them into your struggles and whether that being a counselor, or a friend, or a parent, whoever that is you can trust and then get connected to the resources that you need.”

The necessity of being proactive in taking care of mental health and incorporating ways to support one’s mental wellbeing into a daily routine are frequently disregarded as not as important as taking care of your physical health in our society. However, this idea is terribly detrimental and cannot be further from the truth. Rather, taking an active approach to dealing with mental health can make all the difference, according to Malmon. She noted that we do not wait for the rest of our body to develop an ailment before we begin to take care of it.

“We don’t wait until we have a heart attack to learn how to take care of our heart,” Malmon said.

This lecture is not the first time a conversation around mental health has begun at Marist; on May 1, 2017, a petition was launched by a then Marist student on asking for increased funding for the Marist College Counseling department. The petition garnered over 560 signatures.

Nearly two years later, mental health was being discussed again at Malmon’s lecture, demonstrating this topic’s enduring need for attention. The event was designed to open up this conversation by shining a spotlight on something that many students struggle with on a daily basis.

“A lot of times, we want to talk about how we feel, what we feel, what our issues are, our anxieties, our insecurities, but at the end of the day, a lot of us just decide to sort of shove it away into the deepest part of our soul,” Johnson said. “And we never get over that.” Malmon’s speech, however, demonstrated how just how important having these difficult conversations can be.

Active Minds has made great strides in helping change the way students across the country view mental health. Malmon is hopeful, and knows that what is truly going to make an impact on the lives of the individuals struggling are the students that are willing to take a stand and open a dialogue about this issue. 
 “I see in you a generation that sees this as your social justice issue,” Malmon told the audience. “Finally you guys are standing up to it.”

Students can contact Marist College Counseling Services by calling 845-575-3314.