As a college freshman, depression and isolation led Justin Mercer to the verge of taking his own life, but the thought of his younger sister finding him was enough for him to open up to his family and seek counseling. Now, as an alternative master’s student in the Auburn University College of Education’s Social Science program, Mercer is a leader in a campus organization called Active Minds. This week, Mercer and the Auburn University chapter were featured on the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt as part of the network’s emphasis on September being National Suicide Prevention Month.
“Everyone has a sad day, but depression is different,” Mercer said. “Depression crushes you. It was like the weight of the world was on me.”
Mercer now works with other students to help them find ways to cope with the mental health challenges faced by students on Auburn’s campus along with hundreds of thousands of other college students across the country.
Along with Mercer, several other Auburn students spoke on camera about the importance of peer support and sharing their stories in a safe space. The founder of Active Minds, Alison Malmon, was also on campus for the news feature. She explained that the presence of such an organization on campus increases awareness, decreases stigma, and changes behaviors.
In addition to doing his teaching internship at Opelika High School, Mercer wrote a book about his experiences.
“If I am able to help just one person, I’m good,” he said. “I’ve done my part.”