Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, recently moderated a panel discussion in New Haven about youth mental health and the importance of connection. Dozens of Chargers attended the event, including one student who served as a panelist and met the Surgeon General .
September 23, 2022
Mary Lippa ’23 is passionate about mental health education and suicide prevention, both at the individual and systemic levels. Her dedication has gotten the attention of the University community and, now, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Committed to promoting mental health at the University, Lippa is president of HappyUNewHaven, a recognized student organization, and often leaves bright sticky notes with uplifting messages and quotes around campus to inspire and bring cheer to 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 bring her message to a wider audience.
The discussion, held at Southern Connecticut State University, was moderated by Dr. Murthy. Panelists such as Lippa had the chance to address Dr. Murthy directly. He asked about youth mental health and what can be done improve it, and Lippa was prepared. She discussed the importance of resilience, community, and connection.
“I wanted the Surgeon General and everyone in the audience to understand the youth perspective, as well as more academic and social perspectives,” said Lippa, a psychology major. “It was an honor for Dr. Murthy to hear my thoughts and to respond to them. Sitting on a panel and being able to address a group of people about this topic that I am extremely passionate about is always a dream come true for me, especially in front of people who have serious push and pull.”
As part of the event, Lippa 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, waited 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 is exactly what it was like to meet him,” she said. “Throughout the event, he made sure to ask people’s names and maintain equal ground between everyone by being kind, open, and honest.”
‘Talk openly about loneliness and mental health’
Lippa wasn’t the only Charger to take part in the event. Fifty University of New Haven undergraduate and graduate students of diverse majors attended the discussion. Ryan White ’26 and his two roommates, all paramedicine majors, were among them. White says Dr . Murthy’s message – especially about the importance of small efforts to connect with others, such as a smile – can make a huge difference in another’s life.
“Since I am going into healthcare, it was amazing to see one of the nation’s leaders in person and to hear him speak about mental health,” said White. “The coolest concept he introduced was that mental health and social connection are just as important to living as food and water. He gave some basic science, and he really was able to connect how being with others is how we as humans are able to survive.”
Dr. Murthy and the panelists discussed youth mental health, community, and social connection, something that resonated with Dhaani Dhaani ’23 MPH. She is particularly interested in discussing loneliness and mental health, something so many people experienced during the pandemic, because she believes they are topics that don’t always get the attention they deserve. As a medical professional and a health advocate, she is glad these issues are now being brought to light.
“Throughout the talk, I felt a lot of students like me were thrilled to be there and really opened up,” she said. “Our participation showed that Dr. Murthy influenced them and intrigued them, so they talked 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 that I got the chance to listen to Dr. Murthy talk.”
‘We are on this journey of self-care and mental well-being together’
In addition to the students, several faculty members attended the discussion. Kirsten Jensen, JD, NR-P, EMS-1, assistant director of the University’s paramedicine program, says she was, perhaps, just 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 to have been invited to attend the event.
“I wanted to let students know we are on this journey of self-care and mental well-being together,” she said. “This was a unique event. The panel was an occasion for students and faculty alike to open their minds to one another. I think it’s important to note that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the pervasive issue of mental health.”
“This was an unparalleled opportunity for our students to meet with, and learn from, one of the key healthcare leaders and most trusted voices in public health today,” added Karl Minges, Ph.D., MPH, chair of the Health Administration and Policy Department. “There is a natural synergy in that the Surgeon General’s mission parallels that of many programs in the School of Health Sciences, focusing on laying the foundation for a healthier country and world. We are pleased to have the community connections in place to make a memorable event like this one a real possibility 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 answered questions and was joined by Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont for closing remarks.
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 fundamentally designed to connect,” he said. “Connections make you feel like you belong. Dialogue gives each and every 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.”
When Lippa ended her part of the panel discussion, she wrapped with a call to action. She discussed the importance of S.3628 – Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act, a bill sponsored by US Senator Jacky Rosen that has received bipartisan support. It currently is awaiting passage in the Senate. Lippa encouraged participants – and urges everyone – to familiarize themselves with the bill and to be proactive when it comes to mental health.
Suicide prevention can happen between two people, but it can and should happen systematically,” said Lippa. “This country has been facing a mental health crisis and suicide epidemic for several years now, long before the pandemic began. Mental health is invariably tied up in physical health, and, as a doctor, Dr. Murthy understands this and the urgent need for change. He has been a huge advocate for youth mental health, which is enormously helpful considering his position in the government and his influence on other key players in the government.”