Chargers engage in mental health discussion with U.S. Surgeon General

Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, recently moderated a panel discussion in New Haven on youth mental health and the importance of connection. Dozens of chargers attended the event, including one student who participated as a panelist and met the Surgeon General.

September 23, 2022

By Rene Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Mary Lippa ’23 (far right) and her fellow panelists with US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Mary Lippa ’23 is passionate about mental health education and suicide prevention, both at the individual and systemic levels. Her dedication has caught the attention of the university community and now the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Mary Lippa '23.
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Mary Lippa ’23.

Dedicated to promoting mental health on campus, Lipa is the president of HappyUNewHaven, a recognized student organization, and often leaves bright sticky notes with uplifting messages and quotes around campus to inspire and cheer up her fellow Chargers. She was recently selected to represent the university as part of a mental health panel discussion that included students from local colleges and universities. It was an opportunity to get her message across to a wider audience.

The discussion, held at Southern Connecticut State University, was moderated by Dr. Murthy. Panelists like Lipa had the chance to address Dr. Murthy directly. He asked about youth mental health and what could be done to improve it, and Lipa was prepared. She discussed the importance of resilience, community and connection.

“I wanted the surgeon general and everyone in the audience to understand the perspective of young people, as well as more academic and social perspectives,” said Lipa, a psychology major. “Dr. Murthy was honored to hear my thoughts and respond to them. To sit on a panel and be able to address a group of people about this topic that I’m extremely passionate about is always a dream come true for me, especially in front of people who have serious drive and power.”

As part of the event, Lipa also had the opportunity to interact with Dr. Murthy outside of the panel discussion. She and her fellow panelists—from Gateway Community College, Southern and Yale University—were waiting for him in a conference room. She said he immediately made a positive impression on everyone.

“To quote one of my fellow panelists, ‘You know when someone walks into a room and they just have a presence?’ That’s what meeting them was like,” she said. “Throughout the event, he made sure to ask for people’s names and kept everyone on a level playing field by being kind, open and honest.”

Panel view.
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy moderates a panel discussion featuring Mary Lippa ’23 (left).
“Talk openly about loneliness and mental health”

Lippa wasn’t the only Charger to participate in the event. Fifty undergraduates and graduate students from the University of New Haven from various majors attended the discussion. Ryan White ’26 and his two roommates, all paramedic majors, were among them. White says Dr. Murthy’s message — especially about the importance of small efforts to connect with others, like a smile — can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Dhaani Dhaani '23 MPH.
Dhaani Dhaani ’23 MPH.

“Since I’m going into health care, it was amazing to see one of the nation’s leaders in person and hear him talk about mental health,” White said. “The coolest concept he introduced was that mental health and social connection are as important to life as food and water. He gave some basic science and really managed to relate how being with others is how we as humans can survive.

Dr. Murthy and the panelists discussed youth mental health, community and social connections, something that resonated with Dhaani Dhaani ’23 MPH. She is particularly interested in discussing loneliness and mental health, something so many people have experienced during the pandemic, because she believes these are topics that don’t always get the attention they deserve. As a medical professional and health advocate, she is glad that these issues are now being brought to light.

“During the talk, I felt that a lot of students like me were excited to be there and really opened up,” she said. “Participation showed us that Dr. Murthy influenced and intrigued them so they spoke openly about loneliness and mental health. The talk also helped me connect with other emerging public health professionals from local universities and I feel fortunate to have had the chance to listen to Dr. Murthy speak.”

Three roommates pose for a photo in their dorm.
Ryan White ’26 (front) and his roommates Pierce Perez (center) and Dylan Custer were assigned to attend the panel discussion.
“We are on this journey of self-care and mental well-being together”

In addition to students, several professors also participated in the discussion. Kirsten Jensen, JD, NR-P, EMS-1, assistant director of the university’s paramedic program, says she may have been as excited to attend as the students. She was also grateful for the opportunity to show her support for the students and for members of the university community who were invited to attend the event.

“I wanted to let the students know that we are on this journey of self-care and mental wellness together,” she said. “It was a unique event. The panel was an opportunity for students and faculty to open their minds to each other. I think it is important to note that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the widespread problem of mental health.

“This was an unparalleled opportunity for our students to meet and learn from one of the key leaders in healthcare and the most trusted voices in public health today,” added Carl Minges, Ph.D., MPH, Chair of Health Administration and Policy department. “There is a natural synergy in that the mission of the Surgeon General parallels that of many programs in the School of Health Sciences, focusing on laying the foundation for a healthier country and world. We are delighted to have connections with the community to make an unforgettable event like this a real opportunity for students to attend.”

“The Urgent Need for Change”

As part of the event, Dr. Murthy led a collaborative interactive exercise to encourage students to connect with those around them. He also took questions and was joined by Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont for closing remarks.

Sanmeet Jindal '24 MPH and Dr. Murthy.
Sanmeet Jindal ’24 MPH and Dr. Murthy.

For Sanmit Jindal ’24 MPH, the exercise was very meaningful and he enjoyed the interactive discussion. He says Dr. Murthy’s message and those of the panelists resonated with him.

“Dr. Murthy wants people to connect with each other because humans are inherently designed to connect,” he said. “Relationships make you feel like you belong. Dialogue gives each person the power to heal. The panel discussion was very informative and Mary Lippa really helped us understand the importance of helping people when they are vulnerable.”

As Lipa concluded her portion of the panel discussion, she ended with a call to action. She discussed the importance of S.3628 – The Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act, a bill sponsored by US Senator Jackie Rosen that received bipartisan support. It is currently awaiting approval in the Senate. Lipa encouraged attendees — and urged everyone — to learn about the bill and be proactive when it comes to mental health.

“Suicide prevention can happen between two people, but it can and should happen systematically,” Lippa said. “This country has been facing a mental health crisis and suicide epidemic for several years, long before the pandemic began. Mental health is inextricably linked to physical health, and as a physician, Dr. Murthy understands this and the urgent need for change. He has been a great advocate for young people’s mental health, which is extremely helpful given his position in government and his influence over other key players in government.

Students and faculty with Governor Ned Lamont.
Students and faculty with Governor Ned Lamont.

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