News

April 1, 2010

Francesca Pileggi ’10 Works to Increase Peer Support for Students with Mental Illness

She is named as a finalist for national award recognizing student efforts at improving mental health on college campuses

When Francesca Pileggi ’10 (Glen Mills, Pa.) was a first-year student, she had difficulty adjusting to college life and quickly found she wasn’t alone. Recognizing a common, but often overlooked, issue among college students, she took action and founded a chapter of Active Minds, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing mental health issues on college campuses.

“Student-run events really seem to reach students most effectively,” explains Pileggi, who is a double major in psychology and religious studies. “Active Minds plans its events so that a student who is struggling would be just as likely to attend as a student who isn’t having a hard time. We don’t want anyone to feel like they’re identifying themselves in any way by attending one of our events. I am well aware there is a huge stigma surrounding issues of mental health. We also partner with the Bailey Health Center and the Counseling Center to accomplish our goals; they both have great staff with excellent resources.”

The University of Michigan recently honored Pileggi for her efforts to increase mental health awareness by naming her as a finalist for the Student Mental Health Advocate Award. She traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the Depression on College Campuses Conference. She attended workshops and was recognized at a luncheon for her work with the College chapter of Active Minds.

“I hope [this] is indicative of the type of mental health environment our chapter of Active Minds has helped create on campus,” she says. “I hope to continue to share my story about my mental health experience with young people after graduation, so it was great to attend a workshop devoted to teaching students to effectively communicate about mental health issues.”

The chapter launched the PardSecret project last fall, inviting members of the Lafayette community to remain anonymous while submitting secrets online. It mirrors Frank Warren’s PostSecret community mail art project where people anonymously mailed secrets on the back of homemade postcards. Active Minds will display the collected secrets in the Marlo Room of Farinon College Center, Wednesday, April 7, before an open discussion facilitated by a member of the Counseling Center staff. Karen Forbes, director of counseling services, assisted the chapter with PardSecret.

“I was hoping that PardSecret would make students feel more connected, understanding, and compassionate toward each other,” says Pileggi. “I also believe it will highlight issues Lafayette students are facing and open up a dialogue on campus. Statistics from the Counseling Center reveal that our students are really devoted to their friends, and I believe changing the conversation about mental health starts with educating your friends. When students have injuries, you often see their friends driving them to class or carrying their backpacks. I hope someday students will offer the same kind of support to their friends struggling with a mental health issue.”

Also inspiring Pileggi’s efforts was the suicide of her 18-year-old cousin, Michael Keosayian. Along with Keosayian’s mother, Barbara, and sister, Lindsay, she started The ME Project to help young people understand mental health issues. After graduation, she plans on traveling throughout the Delaware Valley to raise awareness about teen and adolescent depression.

“We share the story of Michael’s life and then provide information about the signs and symptoms of teen and adolescent depression as well as information about how to help a friend,” says Pileggi, who plans to begin work on a master’s degree in pastoral counseling next spring. “We hope to educate young people, opening a dialogue about mental health issues, inspiring them to take action and be there for one another, and reducing the stigma attached to mental health issues in their communities.”

posted in Academic News, News and Features, Students