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Ask the Expert


August Ask the Expert

Alison Malmon

08 Young Adults in Recovery

Ask the Expert: 

Alison Malmon is the founder and Executive Director of Active Minds, Inc., the leading national organization that uses students as the driving force to change the perception about mental health on college campuses.  Alison formed the organization following the suicide of her only sibling, twenty-two year old brother Brian Malmon. Wanting to combat the stigma that had caused her brother to suffer in silence and ultimately take his own life, she created a group on her campus at the University of Pennsylvania that promoted an open, enlightened dialogue around the issues. Just after graduating Phi Beta Kappa with honors in Psychology and Sociology in 2003, Alison formed the 501(c)3 organization in order to develop and support chapters of the student group on campuses around the country. From that moment forward, she has served as Executive Director of the non-profit, leading the organization as it engages thousands of student leaders nationwide through more than four hundred campus-based chapters.

For her efforts, Alison has been named a "Top 15 Global Emerging Social Innovator" by Ashoka Changemakers and American Express, Washingtonian of the Year (2007) by Washingtonian Magazine, Citizen of the Year (2008) by the Potomac, Maryland Rotary Club, and a Woman of Distinction by the American Association of University Women.  She has also received the Destigmatization Award from the National Council, Tipper Gore Remember the Children Award from Mental Health America, Young Leadership Award from the National Mental Health Research Association (NARSAD), and was named the first-ever Montgomery County Public Schools (MD) Distinctive Alumnus. Alison has been profiled as a "Person you Should Know" on CNN, and in stories in the New York Times, Washington Post, Glamour Magazine, and ABC's Good Morning America, among others.

In addition to her work at Active Minds, Alison sits on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Consumer/Survivor Subcommittee, Suicide Prevention Resource Center Steering Committee, Bringing Theory to Practice Project Planning Committee, and Students of AMF Board of Directors.  In her spare time, Alison enjoys teaching the flying trapeze at the Trapeze School in Washington, DC - and thinks everyone should "fly" at least once in his or her lifetime!

1) Question: In the program, you mentioned teaching children coping skills for when they are having a bad day, such as journaling or riding a bike, as a way of helping to mitigate future mental health issues. What else can you recommend?

Answer: There are a lot of coping skills that we can all learn and use when we're having a bad day or otherwise need healthy ways to get out stress and anxiety.  And the earlier we learn those healthy coping skills, the more likely we are to use them throughout our lives – helping us get through the toughest times we may experience.  One of the best skills for people of all ages to learn is to "use your words" - talking to a friend or family member, journaling, even talking to yourself in a mirror.  Kids will often respond well to talking to their favorite stuffed animal, or family pet.  A change of scenery is also a good mechanism for coping, like going outside for a walk, visiting your favorite park or tree, or even going for a jog.  Some kids respond really well to creative art projects, or just generally doing something with their hands too, like coloring, painting, playing with playdoh.

 

2) Question: I live in a rural area. How do I find other teens in the area who might be dealing with a mental health condition, so that I can find peers and be with people who understand me? We don’t even have internet at home as it isn’t available in our area.

Answer: Living in a rural area can make it harder to feel connected to other people who may be going through the same things you are, but it's certainly not impossible.  First, I would check to see if there is a chapter of Active Minds at your local college, or a Mental Health America or NAMI affiliate near you.  Any of those groups may host in-person meetings for teens that you could join.  If you do have access to the Internet, even if it's limited, I'd recommend looking at sites like www.reachout.com or strengthofus.org.  Or you may even try going to your guidance counselor at school or counseling center at college and let them know you're interested in connecting with other teens who are living with mental health issues, and they may know of a resource in your own community or be able to help you start one!

 

3) Question: You talk about how much drinking college students do in the show. As a parent of a high schooler, what can I do now to start preparing my child for being in that environment? She is an excellent student, involved in sports, and she doesn’t drink. But I know plenty of young people who didn’t drink in high school, but once they got into college, everything changed.

Answer: Alcohol can be a common distraction for college students, and it's natural for parents to be concerned about their kids' alcohol use especially when the kids are no longer under their watchful eye at home.  However, there are things you can do now to help your child make the right choices.  First and foremost, talk to her.  Acknowledge that you know that alcohol will be around in college (and probably is already around in high school) and commend her for making the right decisions so far.  Let her know that you know she'll probably drink, but that you hope she continues to make the right decisions for herself and all she's been working towards.  Let her know that, no matter what, she can always call you at any time day or night if she is in a tough situation or needs to make a hard decision.  And finally, you can let her know that despite what it may seem, most college students drink far less than we think they do.  In fact, most students drink fewer than 4 drinks over many hours in a night when they drink.

 

4) Question: I am 15 years old and would like to know how I would test my own mental health? How do I know if I am healthy, or need to seek help? My moods go up and down. I don’t know if this is normal for a 15 year old.

Answer: It can be really tough to know if what you're going through is what everyone else is going through or something more serious, especially as a teenager or young adult.  The first thing I would say is that if your moods or thoughts or feelings are interfering with your daily life or daily happiness in any way, you should talk to someone about them.  You don't need to diagnose yourself, nor do you need to have a diagnosable disorder to talk to someone.  Don't you sometimes go to the doctor when you're not feeling well, just wanting him/her to tell you what you have and if they can help you?  It should be the same with your mental health.  Let the experts help you understand what you're going through; just know that seeking help in the first place is a sign of immense strength.

That said, if you are really interested in seeing what your feelings mean, you can find some basic quizzes at http://whatsmym3.com/Screening/Screening.aspx, and mentalhealthscreening.org.

 

5) Question: What are the different options for teens needing treatment for mental health conditions? I don’t know what options exist, so it’s just a big unknown. It would help to have more information.

Answer: One of the scariest and most confusing things about dealing with your mental health is just not knowing what's out there if you're in need.  Luckily, there are a lot of options.  First, talk with a trusted adult about what you are going through.  It's always helpful to have an ally on your side as you navigate different options.  Almost every middle and high school has a guidance counselor, and often that is a great place for you to go next.  That person may be able to visit with you on a regular basis like a typical therapy session, or he/she may be able to connect you with resources in your community.  It’s good to know that social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists are all trained professionals who can help you through this time.  If you don’t have easy access to any of those professionals, you can start with your pediatrician.  He/she should be able to connect you with a good resource too.  The professional you end up seeing may recommend that you take medication for your mental health disorder.  A psychiatrist or doctor will be able to prescribe you that medication; but it’s important to know that medication won’t be able to solve everything and you should still be going to therapy and talking to a professional on a regular basis even if you are on medication.

If those in-person resources aren’t accessible to you, you can still get support a few different ways.  The first is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) which will connect you to a trained crisis counselor so you can talk to someone anonymously any time, day or night, via phone.  If you identify as LGBTQ, you may also want to call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.  Both of those hotlines also have corresponding chat-lines, which you can access at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx and  www.thetrevorproject.org .  And soon there will be a text-based service available via the CrisisTextLine; stay tuned for that.



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