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Spotlight on Mental Wellness

The Reflect Organization

Mental illnesses are common in the United States. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (NIMH) and 75% of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 24 (NAMI). Since May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve decided to kick off this Non-Profit Spotlight beginning with an organization that addresses Mental Wellness on college campuses every day of every year. The statistics are staggering; 1 in 4 young people ages 18-24 report having had serious thoughts of suicide since March 2020 (CDC, 2020) and Heathy Minds Survey found that 2 in 3 college students are struggling with loneliness and feeling isolated (Oh et al, 2020). Because of the significant need and the desire to eradicate the need, Jared Fenton started The Reflect Organization in 2019. His dedication to and joy in his work is infectious, but more importantly, impactful.


After graduating high school, Jared was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania as part of the Civic Scholars program. The program accepts only 15 students a year and offers these identified leaders the opportunity to center their learning in civic and community engagement, collaboration, and social justice education. The four-year, fully resourced program is designed to empower students to become leaders in and advocates for social change.


When I ask Jared if he ever imagined that he would start and run a non-profit organization ‘when he grew up,’ he shared a fun story. As early year students, civic scholars have an assignment to write a ‘letter to themselves.’ Several years later, the letter is sent to them to look back and consider their goals and journey towards those goals. Jared smiles when he shares that his letter, paraphrased, set out the goal to found an organization that helps people, and which makes a tangible positive impact on the community. So, he says, yes. The non-profit world helps achieve those goals and he is grateful to be doing the work he does. Jared is confident that his work is making a positive impact on college campus communities across the country.


Finding himself deeply entrenched in the world of college student mental wellness came on the heels of multiple suicides amongst Jared’s peers (6 in just over one year.) Through a research opportunity looking at college mental health, Jared helped to uncover the concept of “Penn Face,” a phenomenon Penn students reference where they hide their stress and the pressure that goes with being a student behind a metaphorical mask. His research also led to a realization that this phenomenon is not unique to Penn or to Ivy schools. Tulane, for example, has identified “The Undertow” which describes the pressure that pulls you under when the surface seems calm. This is similar to the description of “Duck Syndrome,” identified at the University of Colorado and Stanford, where the duck glides along in a seemingly effortless manner while furiously paddling under the water. The list goes on and on across campuses throughout the world. Jared once received a request from someone at the University of Essex, in the UK, who had learned about his work and shared that Penn Face exists there too.


So, Jared stepped up and formed an on-campus group centered around food (what college student doesn’t show up for pizza?) and conversation and called it Penn Reflect. By graduation, Penn Reflect dinners were attracting students across campus seeking to engage in brave, honest, and mutually supportive discussions on a wide range of topics from parents to dating to grades and roommates and whatever else was on their minds. After graduation, Jared organized and founded The Reflect Organization, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and began forming Reflect program sites on other campuses.


There are many program sites of Reflect on campuses throughout the US. They don’t always “look” the same, but they always focus on the bullseye of empowering students to personally be a change agent through being that One Caring Person for someone. The Reflect Organization believes that through practicing the three tenets of Authenticity, Allyship, and Self-love, students can be catalysts for change which will shift campus culture. Others believe this too. This is evidenced by the fact that The Reflect Organization has been highlighted in National news and media, informed National public policy on “flourishing,” and worked with organizations like the NCAA to support student-athlete mental wellness during the pandemic.


Students with low-quality social support are 6x more likely to experience depressive symptoms than students with high-quality social support (Hefner, 2010). Reflect programs offer that social support. They are unique in many ways. Programs, which are peer led, do not set out to replace professional clinical mental health interventions. Rather, the Reflect model helps to build an inclusive, pro-active, and protective mental wellness community. 85% of young people say that having a peer who listens to them when they have a problem would have a significant positive impact on their mental wellness (Born This Way Foundation, 2021).Reflect instills in participants that anyone can be a “Caring Person” who helps others to build resilience and break cycles of adversity and Reflect helps empower students to forge such life-changing relationships. Jared honestly believes that, through this organic movement, there lies the existence of reality that there will be a day when Reflect is no longer needed by students. When will that be? When each of us embraces the elements of One Caring Person who declares: I don’t judge you, I believe in you, and I’m there for you.


Lastly, I am curious what advice Jared would offer others on the journey to founding and growing a successful non-profit social enterprise. There is a long pause. Then Jared confesses that he has an entire presentation on this topic. He eventually lands on the advice that success comes from engaging others in your work, recognizing everyone’s unique talents, and engaging in collaborations is imperative. “We don’t ever do this work alone.”

To support the mission and work of The Reflect organization visit their website at www.reflecteffect.org. There you can find more information and media, connect through the "Get Involved" page, or contribute financially through the "Donate" page (or through this direct link.) Every level of support of your time, talent, or treasure is appreciated!


References

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Mental illness. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness


Mental health conditions. NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, December 29). Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic - United States, June 24–30, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm


Oh, H., Marinovich, C., Rajkumar, R., Besecker, M., Zhou, S., Jacob, L., Koyanagi, A., & Smith, L. (2021, September 1). Covid-19 dimensions are related to depression and anxiety among US college students: Findings from the Healthy Minds Survey 2020. Journal of affective disorders. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8595066/#

Hefner J, Eisenberg D. Social Support and Mental Health Among College Students.

Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2009 Oct;79(4):491-9. doi: 10.1037/a0016918. PMID: 20099940. Kindness is action. Born This Way Foundation. (2021, July 27). Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://bornthisway.foundation/research/kindness-is-action/





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