- By Megan Morley Thomas
When student Cameron Mack speaks to an audience in his newfound role as one of the nation's most popular student speakers, he often wonders what he would have felt like if he went to see a speaker like himself when he was 14 years old and struggling with mental health issues. The hope that he would have felt less alone is confirmed every time a young person comes up to him after an event and shares his or her own story.
Mack travels the country as a contract speaker for Active Minds, a national non-profit organization that focuses on using student voices to change the conversation about mental health on college campuses and eliminate the stigma surrounding it. Mack touches on a broad range of issues, including his struggles with depression and bipolar disorder resulting in a series of hospitalizations and an attempted suicide. He also talks about his experiences growing up as a queer transgender youth in Burlington and his struggles in the mental health and foster care system before being placed with a loving family that changed his life.
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"I love hearing people's stories because it helps the person telling it just as much as it does the person hearing it," says Mack.
"Everyone has a story to tell, and it's important that there are safe spaces for people to tell them. There's so much about our current culture that I hope to change so that safe places exist for people to talk about mental health, LGBTQ issues or whatever else they need to share. I'm honored to be part of this process as a speaker with Active Minds. It's been the experience of a lifetime," says Mack, a full-time nursing student and EMT who has spoken at about a dozen conferences, schools and other events nationwide. He says he was shocked when Active Minds selected him to join its prestigious 10-person speakers bureau known as The Heard based on a short video he made one night in front of his computer.
Mack's reputation as a speaker caught the attention of Campus Pride, the leading national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBT students, which listed Mack among the nation's top Speaker/Lecturers in its "2010 HOT LIST!" highlighting the "Top 25 'Best of the Best'" LGBT speakers and performers in the nation. Campus Pride is the same organization that ranked UVM among the top 19 most gay-friendly colleges and universities in the nation in its LGBT- Friendly Campus Climate Index.
A number of recent suicides among high school and college students across the country has raised awareness about the effects of bullying, loneliness and depression.
Alison Malmon, who founded Active Minds in 2001 as a junior at the University of Pennsylvania following the suicide of her older brother one year earlier, says Mack has been a vitally important addition to The Heard's roster. "Cameron brings such energy, honesty and hope to the dialogue around mental health," she says. "He has a remarkable way of engaging audiences of high school students and professionals all at the same time and truly touching everyone with whom he comes in contact."