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APUS Alumni Stories: Raising Mental Health Awareness

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By Melanie Conner, Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison, and Michelle Lusson, APU Graduate

Mental health is a popular topic these days, as people are experiencing multiple personal and professional changes and high stress during this global pandemic. American Public University (APU) graduate Michelle Lusson is passionate about mental health and mental health awareness. She recently connected with us to share her experience as a volunteer at Give an Hour and a mental health advocate, as well as her genuine enthusiasm for mental health awareness.

“One of the things psychologists used to say was that if you are depressed, anxious or angry, you couldn’t be happy. Those were at opposite ends of a continuum. I believe that you can be suffering or have a mental illness and be happy – just not in the same moment that you’re sad.” – Martin Seligman, American psychologist

Reaching Communities Both Locally and Worldwide 

mental health Lusson Conner
Michelle Lusson, APU graduate

Michelle is certified in mental health first aid. Since 2015, she has volunteered in community outreach for Give an Hour, a non-profit organization that delivers mental health services to military veterans and their families in addition to other populations.

Michelle’s volunteer work involves creating and sending fundraising letters. The fundraising letters introduce the organization, highlight the work that it does and share how the contributions of individuals can support its mission.

With the mental health struggles created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Michelle’s volunteer work with Give an Hour has made a definite impact in our society. Michelle notes that while her workload has remained the same during the pandemic, Give an Hour is now busier as it now shares mental health resources on social media to address our challenging pandemic circumstances.

Give an Hour also recently hosted a global virtual event on emotional well-being. The organization provides free support for mental health to hospital personnel and their family members in the NYC area due to a donation from Aetna.

A Growing Enthusiasm for Mental Health

Michelle first became interested in psychology while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Michelle took psychology courses to fulfill her elective requirements while seeking her degree, and those led to her interest in psychology and her eventual decision to earn a master’s degree in the field. She received her master’s degree in psychology from APU in 2019.

During her time at APU, her interest in mental health awareness further increased. Michelle says, “My participation in student organizations such as Active Minds and the Psychology Club gave me a valuable opportunity to apply my skills and interests to benefit others.”

Michelle completed elective coursework on substance abuse and addiction in her graduate program from APU, and she examined substance abuse as part of her capstone paper. She says, “I find myself much more understanding of the issue of the societal stigma that prevents individuals from seeking help and prevents others from offering them help.

Due to the psychology classes she took for her master’s degree, Michelle says, “I’m positioned to better understand issues in the field of psychology that exist on both a societal and individual level. My critical thinking skills have been significantly strengthened.”

Maintaining Ties with the University Community

Michelle remains active in the university community as a University Ambassador. She also serves as Vice President of Active Minds, which advocates for mental health wellness and empowers students to speak openly about mental health.

Interested in joining Active Minds? Submit an application today.

Active Minds recently collaborated with the R.E.A.D. Book Club to discuss a book on the topic on mental health. Active Minds also conducted a virtual 5K Walk/Run fundraiser last May in conjunction with other student organizations, such as the Nursing Honor Society and Delta Mu Delta.

On September 24 and 25, Active Minds will host a two-day Suicide Awareness and Prevention Symposium.

Michelle has also written articles on mental health. Her articles have been featured on university blogs:

In addition, she is about to complete her term on the Advisory Board for Pi Gamma Mu, an international honor society for the social sciences.

Mentoring Others

Michelle is an active member of ClearPath, the university’s mentoring program, which she joined in March 2019. Michelle became a mentor because she is interested in sharing anything that she learned to help other students be more successful in reaching their personal and professional goals. Some areas where she offers assistance include leadership skills, communication skills, academic success and time management.

Michelle enjoys remaining an active part of the university community. She says, “In addition to having met a lot of wonderful individuals, I have found an opportunity to continue learning and growing through my interactions with them.”

Encouraging Others to Reach Out to Mental Health Resources

Michelle encourages others to know that it’s okay to need help. She suggests that if you need help, don’t delay in seeking it.

For individuals who may be seeking help but don’t know where to turn, there are trained helpers who provide free, 24/7 assistance. One such organization is the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741), an organization that provides referrals for future assistance. At APUS, we are committed to the mental health of our students, alumni, staff, and faculty members during these stressful times. Our University chaplain is always available.

While she has a variety of roles to perform and stays busy, Michelle observes, “I use the skills in prioritizing and managing my time that I enhanced while handling the rigorous demands of my advanced degree. In addition, the genuine enthusiasm that I have for all that I do gives me the energy that I need to get it all done! My enthusiasm for doing the work that I do comes from my feeling that I am serving needs and truly worthwhile causes.”

Melanie Conner is a Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison at the university. Having worked in higher education for almost 10 years, Melanie enjoys cultivating relationships with students and alumni. She has undergraduate degrees in education from Germanna Community College and in sociology from the University of Mary Washington.

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