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By Erica Perez of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Nov. 16, 2008
Michael Mannarino discusses an informational packet about upcoming events planned by the Active Minds program at Marquette University with Kristy Nielson, associate professor of psychology.
Michael Mannarino will speak about his experience with bipolar disorder from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 227 of Marquette University’s Alumni Memorial Union.
This week, you’ll find 22-year-old Marquette University student Michael Mannarino leading a primal scream session and talking to a crowd about his attempted suicide. But he hasn’t always spoken so openly about these things.
Even before Mannarino was diagnosed with bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorders, the outgoing and athletic student kept his mental health battles private.
“I had lived with bipolar kind of alone. No one knew that I had it,” he said. [he didn’t- it doesn’t exist – SSRI Ed]
But after he nearly took his life, he left Marquette and received treatment. When he returned, he searched for a way to help others. That’s when he found out about Active Minds.
The national, student-run group aims to de-stigmatize mental illness among college students by promoting open discussion. With more than 100 college chapters, Active Minds is often led by young adults, such as Mannarino, who are living with mental illness. The idea is to empower students to treat their mental illness before it reaches a tragic stage.
With Mannarino at the helm, the Marquette group is leading a series of campus events to mark Mental Illness Awareness Week. Mannarino speaks on Tuesday in the only event open to the public.
For Mannarino, it’s especially important to encourage young men to be more open about mental health, despite cultural pressures.
“I want to try to help males realize there’s places for us to go and places for us to talk, as well as . . . try to reduce the stigma so that people don’t feel like they have to be alone anymore,” he said.
Active Minds is expanding at a time when the number of college students with mental illness is increasing.
In a 2006 national survey by the University of Pittsburgh, 92% of participating university counseling directors indicated the number of students with severe psychological problems had increased in recent years. According to a 2007 survey from the American College Health Association, more than one-third of college students felt too depressed to function at least once in the last school year.
‘Don’t show weakness’
Growing up in Solon, Ohio, Mannarino always had swinging moods. One day he’d feel elated; another he’d feel depressed. He threw himself into activities to keep busy and avoid being alone with his mind. He wrestled and played football. When a knee injury took him off the field, he started acting and singing.
“I was taught: don’t show weaknesses, which is in terms of sports a very good thing,” Mannarino said. “It conditions you to bring that into your life. I just thought I shouldn’t show people that I had these emotions and stuff.”
When he started Marquette in 2004, he made fast friends and felt happy to be starting a new phase of his life. But by October, the mood switched to depression. He fell behind in school.
He went to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, an illness that causes rapid shifts in mood or manic episodes. Mannarino started on medication, but not long after his diagnosis [not long after starting on meds – Ed], he decided he didn’t want to be alive anymore.
While his roommate was out of town, he overdosed on pills. When a friend came to the dorm room by chance that night, Mannarino collapsed into seizures before his friend’s eyes.
Mannarino returned to Ohio, where he spent nearly three years getting treatment. When he returned to Marquette in 2007, he felt the urge to help others with their battles.
He went to Marquette’s counseling center and got involved with the university’s suicide prevention program. Called QPR for “question, persuade, refer,” the program trains faculty, staff and administrators about the warning signs of suicide, how to approach the student and where to refer the issue.
Mannarino began speaking about his experience. Then, a counselor in the center got an e-mail from Active Minds founder Alison Malmon, who was gauging interest about starting a chapter at Marquette.
“I fell in love with the whole idea,” Mannarino said. “You’re bringing all these people together . . . having a good time, having fun, taking these loaded issues and breaking them down a little bit, because there are more individuals with mental illnesses going to college campuses than ever before.”