Childhood tragedy prompts student to advocate for suicide prevention

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— Maggie Cardin, a senior in childhood and early adolescent education major and Presidential Leadership Academy student in Penn State's College of Education, has been affiliated with mental health advocacy groups for nearly a decade, and, for the past three years, she has been working to create a mental health training requirement for educators.

Personal experience

In sixth grade, Cardin lost her only sibling, Phil, to suicide.

“It flipped our community upside down,” said Cardin. “We didn’t know what to do.”

Around that time, others in her school who had suffered losses due to suicide started A Helping Hand, a small, school-based mental-health advocacy club.

Cardin became involved with A Helping Hand in seventh grade, and later, while in high school, worked to spread the club’s message throughout her region.

The group reached out to another local high school, Hempfield, and was invited to present. This was the first time Cardin spoke publicly about the loss of her brother. This also was about the time when A Helping Hand started to evolve into Aevidum.

Aevidum is a student-led mental health advocacy club that exists to raise awareness of the warning signs of depression and suicide among adolescents and young adults and let students know there is someone there for them. The word “Aevidum” is a student-created word that means “I’ve got your back.”

The Aevidum Effect

A PSA that introduces viewers to Aevidum, a group that College of Education senior Maggie Cardin has been working with to create a mental health training requirement for educators.

“Aevidum raises positive awareness and works with school counselors who then can help support the needs of students,” said Cardin, who added that Aevidum uses students’ talents to empower other students to get help, with things like songs, videos or skits.

Cardin has spoken at more than 60 schools as well as churches and other community events.

“A lot of people have this idea that talking about suicide will cause students to complete [contemplate] suicide, and it is completely the opposite,” said Maggie Cardin.

“A lot of people have this idea that talking about suicide will cause students to complete [contemplate] suicide, and it is completely the opposite,” said Cardin. “Nobody talks about it because it is so stigmatized. If we talked about it more, it would not have to be a scary topic.”

“My personal purpose for talking is so that no one ever has to stand on a stage and talk about their brother in past tense because of suicide,” said Cardin. “I also speak to let people know that someone is there for them, that someone cares.”

Mental health training for educators

“I chose to go into education because in Pennsylvania you are not required to have any mental health training to receive a bachelors in education,” said Cardin. “[Knowing] that I can go into a school and not have any training on being a first responder for a student in crisis or pointing a student who needs help in the right direction, I think that isn’t fair.”

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Pennsylvania is one of 36 states that does not require mental health training for school personnel.

Cardin sees an inconsistency in current teacher training requirements.

“I’ve been trained on a lot of things that one in 1,000 students have, but not on mental health issues possibly affecting one in five students,” said Cardin, “so my goal is to have some sort of training program to educate pre-service teachers in mental health.”

Cardin’s efforts are starting to come to fruition. College of Education Associate Professor of Counselor Education, Elizabeth Mellin, whose expertise is expanded school mental health, is working with Cardin to develop a two-hour voluntary training around signs of suicide and depression among students for pre-service teachers entering their field experiences.

“It is a great opportunity for Maggie to lead the training as a peer. The students will likely hear the message in a very different way from her,” said Mellin.

Mellin added that she is a strong supporter of requiring this training for educators.

“I think teachers would appreciate some basic knowledge and skill building focused on how to address students' social, emotional and behavioral issues in the classroom,” said Elizabeth Mellin, associate professor of counselor education in the College of Education.

“I think teachers would appreciate some basic knowledge and skill building focused on how to address students' social, emotional and behavioral issues in the classroom,” said Mellin. “These issues are a reality for many teachers, and one of the primary causes of teacher stress and burnout, but we don't provide the necessary tools for teachers to support learning among students who are experiencing social, emotional or behavioral distress.”

In addition to helping coordinate training for the students in the college, Cardin has been lobbying for her cause. A few years ago, the Pennsylvania House and Senate passed a resolution for a statewide Aevidum Day. More recently, Cardin met with U.S. Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, about Aevidum. She also has worked with Pennsylvania State Senator Mike Brubaker.

Maggie Cardin with semi-finalists

Maggie Cardin (front row, second from left) with semi-finalists for Do Something Awards

Image: Penn State

For efforts like these, Cardin recently was selected as a semi-finalist for the Do Something Awards, an award recognizing the nation’s best young world-changers, 25 and under.

What’s next?

Cardin, who will complete her student teaching at Mount Nittany Middle School in 2013-14, plans to continue to work with the Penn State chapter of Aevidum. After graduation, she would like to get her master’s and doctorate in education policy.

“I want to work in policy because I have a loud voice, and I am not afraid to use it,” said Cardin. “I also plan on continuing with Aevidum until at least a training in mental health is required for educators in every state in the country.”

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Last Updated August 15, 2013