The first Common Hour of the fall 2021 semester aimed to start a conversation around mental health on campus, as Jordan Burnham, Director of Training for local mental health awareness organization Minding Your Mind, shared his mental health journey with students, faculty, and staff on Wednesday, September 1, inside Grace Hall. The event was also livestreamed.
During an introduction to Burnham’s talk, Melissa Terlecki, PhD, Chair and Professor of Psychology, acknowledged the pandemic’s mental health toll and encouraged students not to fear sharing their struggles.
“Sharing our mental health stories is really important for all our survival,” she said.
Terlecki organized the event with Alissa L. Brown, PsyD, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, thanks in part to grant funding from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Suicide Prevention Coalition (HESPC).
Burnham gave a chronological account of his mental health journey, beginning with his early struggles as a young teenager in the Philadelphia suburbs—which eventually led to a suicide attempt in his senior year of high school—before concluding with an educational account of his recovery and ongoing practices for mental health resilience.
Burnham stressed the importance of a proper support system to maintaining mental health. He said it was his sister in whom he confided when he was in grade school, but when she went away to college, he began to hold more of his pain to himself.
He was diagnosed with depression in 10th grade and soon learned the difference between someone who has depression and someone who feels blue from time to time.
“Anyone at any given point in time can feel depressed,” Burnham explained. “But more often than not, they know why they’re depressed. Someone like me who has [clinically diagnosed] depression, I can wake up some days and not know why I feel like crying.”
Stigmas around mental illness kept Burnham from seeking help during his high school years.
“At the time I didn’t know anyone at my high school who had a mental health disorder,” he said. “I didn’t want to be known as the depressed kid. I didn’t take it seriously.”
Burnham said his coping mechanism of choice was drinking, and it was an incident in which his parents caught him with alcohol that ultimately triggered his sudden and unplanned suicide attempt. Burnham jumped from a nine-story building and survived the fall.
His physical recovery took years, and though his mental health remains a work in progress, its positive progression “started with a conversation.”
“The conversation has to start somewhere,” he said. “There were so many opportunities for that to happen throughout my story. There was a therapist I didn’t even know we had at my high school.”
Burnham left Cabrini students with advice for sparking these conversations.
“Whether it’s you or a friend you’re worried about, my best advice is to be an active listener,” he said, encouraging the audience to ask others, “How are you feeling?”
“Give them the space to talk about that,” he said. “And validate their experience.”