Chargers engage in mental health debate with US surgeon general

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

September 23, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Mary Lippa ’23 (far right) and her colleagues 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 level. Her dedication has caught the attention of the academic community and, now, 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.

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 joy to her fellow Chargers. She was recently selected to represent the University as part of a mental health 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. Participants like Lippa had the opportunity to speak directly to Dr. Murthy. He asked about youth mental health and what could be done to improve it, and Lipa was prepared. He discussed the importance of resilience, community and connection.

“I wanted the Surgeon General and all the listeners to understand the perspective of young people, as well as more academic and social perspectives,” said Lipa, a psychology major. “It was an honor for Dr. Murthy to listen to my thoughts and respond to them. Sitting on a panel and being 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 push and pull.”

As part of the event, Lippa also had the opportunity to interact with Dr. Murthy out of the discussion. She and her colleagues – from Gateway Community College, Southern and Yale University – were waiting for him in a conference room. He said he immediately made a positive impression on everyone.

“To quote one of my colleagues, ‘You know when someone walks into a room and just has a presence?’ That’s exactly how I met him,” he said. “Throughout the event, he made sure to ask people’s names and kept everyone on a level playing field by being kind, open and honest.”

Table view.
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy moderated a discussion that included Mary Lippa ’23 (left).
“Talk openly about loneliness and mental health”

Lippa wasn’t the only Charger participating in the event. Fifty undergraduate and graduate students of various majors from the University of New Haven attended the discussion. Among them was Ryan White ’26 and his two roommates, all paramedics. White says the message from Dr. Murthy – especially on the importance of small efforts to connect with others, such as smiling – can make a huge difference in another’s life.

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

“Being in 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 idea 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 was able to connect how being with others is how we as humans can survive.”

Dr. Murthy and the panelists discussed youth mental health, community and social connectedness, which resonated with Dhaani Dhaani ’23 MPH. She is particularly interested in discussing loneliness and mental health, which 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 happy that these issues are now coming to light.

“Throughout the speech, I felt like a lot of students like me were excited to be there and really opened up,” she said. “Our participation showed 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 opportunity to hear Dr. Murthy”.

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

Apart from the students, many faculty members also attended the discussion. Kirsten Jensen, JD, NR-P, EMS-1, assistant director of the University’s paramedic 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 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 occasion for students and professors to open their minds to each other. 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 and learn from one of the key health leaders and most trusted voices in public health today,” added Karl Minges, Ph.D., MPH, president of Health Service and Department of Politics. “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 establishing the foundations for a healthier country and world. We are pleased to have the community connections to make an unforgettable event like this 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 took questions and was joined by Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont for closing remarks.

Sanmit Jindal '24 MPH and Drs.  Murthy.
Sanmit Jindal ’24 MPH and Drs. Murthy.

For Sanmit Jindal ’24 MPH, the exercise was very important and he enjoyed the interactive discussion. He says that the message of Dr. Murthy and those of the participants 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 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 finished her portion of the panel discussion, she closed with a call to action. He discussed the importance of S.3628 – Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act, a bill sponsored by US Senator Jackie Rosen that has received bipartisan support. It is currently expected to be voted on by the Senate. Lippa encouraged attendees — and urges everyone — to familiarize themselves with the bill and be proactive about mental health.

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

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

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