NAMI: I Am Not a Monster

Image for NAMI Fall Speaker
Monday, September 16, 2019 - 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Our fall NAMI speaker this fall is Penn State University's Cecilia McGough.  Cecilia founded Students With Schizophrenia at Penn State.  You can see her TED Talk, I Am Not a Monster on YouTube.

About Cecilia McGough

Cecilia McGough is an astronomer, activist and a writer as a Penn State Schreyer Honor College Scholar pursuing as major in Astronomy and Astrophysics.  Cecilia is the Founder and current President of Students with Schizophrenia at Penn State University.


Schizophrenia is hallmarked by the following characteristics that may or may not include: hallucinations, delusions, and/or scattered thoughts.  Schizophrenia does not currently have a strong global platform, even though 1.1% of the world’s population over the age of eighteen have some form of  schizophrenia.  This is 51 million people worldwide. Yet we go mispresented. Often we are called “crazy.”  We are called “insane.” We are designated as “skitzo.” We become the plot twist at the end of a movie and a costume around Halloween time.

Even within the mental health community, schizophrenia is shied away from because it make people feel “uncomfortable.”   In one of the most referenced books written about schizophrenia, “Surviving Schizophrenia” authored by E. Fuller Torrey, M. D., the first chapter is entitled “The Inner World of Madness,” and within it, I quote:

“Schizophrenia is madness.  Those afflicted act bizarrely, say strange things, withdraw from us, and may even try to hurt us.  They are no longer the same person ---- they are mad!”

I am not “mad.”  Yes, I am frustrated because what type of unaccepting world do we live in that half of the people who have schizophrenia take measures to end their own lives through suicide at least once?  I fall into that statistic.  That is 25.5 million people taking measure to end their own lives with 5.1 million resulting in death.  This is even more shocking when you realize that the peak age to have a schizophrenic break is early adulthood, the same age range as the typical college student.  Yet, there is no organization anywhere worldwide specifically focused on empowering college students who have schizophrenia.  We need to do something about this.  Again, 5.1 million people who have schizophrenia right now will take their own lives through suicide.  Schizophrenia is not a niche topic.  The need for cognitive equality for schizophrenia is prevalent, and the time to act is now.

If a person has cancer or another physical illness and is open about their diagnosis, the community would support them.  5k runs are set up.  People wear colored ribbons at fancy events and fundraisers.  People are not afraid to write Facebook posts, tweets, and use hashtags to show support for those who have cancer.  If a person who has cancer goes to seek medicine or has a hospital stay, this is not only socially acceptable but also expected.  No one would question their decision.  It make sense – if you are sick, then getting to correct professional medical help is what you are expected to do.  However, if a person has schizophrenia is open about their diagnosis, they are more often than not shunned, feared, and questioned by society.  Just like mental health in general, a person with schizophrenia is more likely to be an abuse victim rather than the abuser.

For example, I lived in a homeless/abuse shelter for a short time during my high school career.  I personally have had four psych ward stays because I have acknowledged that I have a chemical imbalance in my head.  In the best interest for my health, I need to be in the hospital during major medicine changes.  The first antipsychotic that I was put on dropped my blood pressure dramatically.  I was unable to get out of bed.  I had a liquid coming out of my ears.  Looking back, I am very thankful that I voluntarily checked myself into a psych ward and had the professional medical team there; otherwise, I might not be here today.  No one should be afraid to seek medical treatment.

In the Fall of 2017, we decided to launch Students With Schizophrenia.  It is time to empower and UNLEASH resources to help students who have schizophrenia to complete their education, live healthy live and fulfilled lived, and have the ability and opportunity to pursue their dreams.  Student With Schizophrenia globally premiered it business model for the first time at the UNLEASH LAB 2017 in Denmark as a direct response to fulfilling the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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