Fighting Stigma Raising Mental Health Awareness

For Amanda Brenner, SIS/BA ’16, improving mental health care is a career and a calling.

The federal workforce policy analyst takes a multifaceted approach to this work with her policy background, licensed social work perspective, public speaking skills, and firsthand experience with severe, treatment-resistant major depression.

While navigating the mental health system as a patient, Brenner witnessed many opportunities for improved care and greater sensitivity from caretakers. Along the way, she lost a friend, who had long battled severe depression, to suicide. After years in emergency rooms, inpatient hospital psychiatric wards, and intensive outpatient programs, Brenner ultimately received electroconvulsive therapy, which set her on the path to recovery. She now describes her depression as in remission.

“I got my second chance,” Brenner says. “Instead of feeling guilty about that, I said, ‘Why don't I commit part of my life, at least, to making sure there's one other person who ends up having a second chance as well?’”

Brenner speaks about her experiences to fight stigma and raise awareness, testifying before the Connecticut General Assembly and serving as a youth outreach speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). She earned a NAMI Stigma Buster award for this work.

Brenner said she uses advocacy to make the world better for others and herself because “it's not entirely a selfless cause. I'm helping to heal my own nihilistic worldview from having those terrible experiences. I’d say it’s rooted in trying to match my personal experience to: ‘How can I best make a difference with my skill set?’”

The mental health care system needs to be more focused on the individual, she says. “There are not enough people [in the field] who either have lived experience or are consulting those with lived experience. They have this idea of mental health, mental illness, in the psychiatric and therapeutic fields and social work that doesn’t necessarily align with reality.”

In addition to her policy work, Brenner is a mentor through AU School of International Service and a recruiter through the AU Career Center, helping connect students who have disabilities, such as severe mental illness, with potential jobs.

“I feel like I’ve often unexpectedly ended up in the right place at the right time, and that started with American,” Brenner says. “Being in that environment really opened my eyes to new issues, new types of diversity, and things I’d never considered before… AU pretty much opened my eyes to the world.”

Brenner is motivated daily by her goal of improving others’ experiences with the mental health care system.

“I am very passionate about amplifying the voices of those in the mental health system, because I know them, and I am one of them.”



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