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Local Non-Profit Aims To Combat Stigma Around Mental Illness

Minding Your Mind's speakers present at schools like Agnes Irwin.

"My name is Jordan Burnham," begins a story on a local nonprofit's website. "I suffer from depression and on September 28, 2007, I tried to take my own life, jumping out of a 9-story window."

Burnham—now 24, and who after dozens of surgeries can now walk and drive—is a nationally-sought public speaker who has appeared on ESPN and the Dr. Phil Show. He is also a speaker with the Ardmore-based nonprofit Minding Your Mind

Minding Your Mind focuses on combatting the stigma of mental illness and promoting health-seeking behavior through presentations and mental health forums.

The organization's young adult speakers travel to local middle schools, high schools and colleges to share their own struggles with issues like depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, along with the story of their recovery.

Lower Merion High School, Harriton High School, The Haverford School, Agnes Irwin and The Shipley School are among the places where speakers have presented. They've also visited The New Leaf Club, a non-profit youth center in Rosemont.

The goal of the presentations is to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, provide a safe space to ask questions, and give students hope for the future. Presentations are at no cost to the school.

“The onset of most mental illnesses is around 13 or 14,” said Trish Larsen, Director of Operations and Community Development at Minding Your Mind. “If we can reach kids in middle school and high school, chances are they’ll recognize what they’re feeling or seeing in their friends, and go for help.”

Speaker Melissa Hopely struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. "I actually used to think I was responsible for the tragedy on 9/11 just because I wore a white blouse, which became 'bad' in the eyes of my OCD," she writes on the Minding Your Mind website.

Another speaker, Kristen East, unknowingly struggled with generalized anxiety disorder in high school, only learning after six years that the illness was responsible for stomach problems that at points had hospitalized her.

While the speakers still struggle with their illnesses at times, they've developed coping mechanisms and are in recovery.

"Our speakers are young adults who are trying to get kids to realize they’re not alone," Executive Director Chris Berrettini explained.

"And that it’s okay," Larsen added. "You can get treated, you can have a happy productive life. They're up there as role models and sharing their story. ... They’re very brave."

How To Get Involved

Want to help, but not sure where to start? Minding Your Mind is currently looking for paid speakers, in addition to volunteers who might be able to creatively fundraise for the organization. Students can also launch awareness campaigns in their schools about mental illness, with help from Minding Your Mind. Contact trish@mindingyourmind.org for more information.

See them speak: The organization also hosts—according to its website—the largest free mental health forum in the Delaware Valley, attracting over 600 people per year. Last year's featured speaker was Mariel Hemingway, the daughter of author Ernest Hemingway. This year, former NFL Quarterback Eric Hipple will speak, along with young adult speaker Burnham.

Up for a run? Registration is open now for the organization's Run For Your Mind 5K Run and 1 Mile Fun Run/Walk. The event will be held at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 7 in South Ardmore Park.

The online registration fee is $27.50 for individuals, $64.20 for a family (up to five members), and $11 for students. Register for the event here.

Have you or your kids seen a Minding Your Mind presentation? What did you think? Tell us in the comments.


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