When Kathleen Connelly saw that there was a national effort to create a book with student stories to highlight mental health, she didn’t wait long to tell her friends and other members of Stockton University’s Active Minds chapter.
Out of many submitted story proposals from current or recently graduated college students from all over the country, 17 were picked to be featured in “Our Stories, Ourselves: Beating the Stigma of Mental Health in Colleges and Universities,” including ones written by four Stockton students.
Connelly, 24, who graduated in 2018 and plans to pursue a master’s degree to become a therapist, was excited to get copies of the book and see her story among all the others. Connelly wrote about her experience with an eating disorder, how she found help in college and her work with local mental health organizations.
“I’ve always thought about writing a memoir, and doing this, sitting down and writing this, helped me know that I can do that,” said Connelly, a 2018 Stockton graduate from Clayton, Gloucester County. “The book is really cool because it includes stories from students at schools that are not always talked about or really known.”
The book came about after co-authors Patrick Corrigan, Maggie Bertram and Deysi Paniagua connected with collegiate chapters of Active Minds, a grassroots organization of college groups that has sought to change the conversation around mental health.
Published stories and poems were written by students with a lived experience of a mental illness or issue, or who were impacted by a close family member with an illness or issue. Topics range from suicide to anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and more.
The point of the book is to show the complexity of mental health, the diversity of people living with illnesses or issues and how many of those people are living successful lives, Connelly said.
Julie Coker, 20, who is set to graduate from Stockton in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in social work, is among the published students in the book. She thought writing her story down would not only help herself but show others that there is hope for recovery.
After getting bullied as a child and teen and developing depression and suicidal ideation, she found help in treatment and was able to become a mental health advocate. The book gave her a chance to open up and share her story, not only with strangers but those closest to her, she said.
“My emotions in the story are real and raw, so sharing it with family and close friends who knew me at the time of my depression is difficult for me,” said Coker, who’s from Union Beach, Monmouth County. “However, I know that because I have shared my story to strangers through a book, I will help people through their challenges, encourage them to seek help and become self advocates.”
Alex Meyers was already used to sharing his experience with obsessive compulsive disorder to larger audiences. He had already given two TEDx Talks before writing his story for the book, which gave him an opportunity to expand more on his mental health journey.
Meyers, 23, who graduated from Stockton in December 2017, opens up about getting home schooled due to the severity of his disorder, and how he and his family coped with that.
Seeing everyone else’s stories alongside his keeps him hopeful for the future, he said. He also hopes that his contribution encourages more men to reach out and get help.
“Men are just as capable of experiencing these debilitating disorders, but are less likely to talk about them, and I think that comes from the expectations that society has about men and masculinity,” said Meyers, who’s from Cape May. “So by sharing my story, I hope that it breaks down those stereotypes and encourages other men to reach out and get help as well.”