University of Illinois student Jim Monti is not about to let still-painful
memories of severe depression recede into the past. Though it's been about
eight months since he was "bombarded by darkness" and struggled
daily for his life, he will not let himself forget what he went through
"I want to use my experiences to motivate others to get where I am
today—to get better," he told Psychiatric News.
To raise awareness of mental health issues and provide support to students
with mental illness on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)
campus. Monti established a campus affiliate of the National Alliance for the
Mentally Ill (NAMI) in late 2004. It is one of 23 campus affiliates across the
United States. Monti is president of the UIUC campus affiliate, which he
established with the help of NAMI-Champaign County.
"For many of us, NAMI on campus is a first step to a successful
recovery," he said.
There are 24 student members, most of whom have a mental illness. The group
meets weekly to discuss topics such as medication or social support, Monti
said, and holds fundraisers to support the organization. "It's a
peer-support group in part," he noted.
NAMI UIUC also hosts speakers to talk to UIUC students about mental
Monti believes the presence of a mental health organization on campus is"
crucial" since mental illness has been estimated to affect about
a quarter of all college students in the country. Further, he pointed out,"
suicide is the second leading killer of college students, after car
For most of his life, Monti said he experienced obsessive thoughts and
anxiety and worried that he was dying of a fatal disease. It was not until he
was halfway through his sophomore year of college that he became convinced
that he had a mental illness.
"I'd be laughing with friends about something and then stop and think
to myself, `You can't be laughing because you're about to die,'" he
said. He describes himself at that time as "alive, but not
At the beginning of his junior year in 2004, Monti recalled an ominous
feeling descending upon him as he made the two-hour drive from his family's
home in Chicago to school. Somehow, he said, the campus he once loved had
become a horrible place, and he spent his days feeling "miserable and
scared," he said.
In November of that year, Monti began seeing a psychiatrist who diagnosed
him with bipolar II disorder. He began taking a mood stabilizer and noticed
that he felt better, but the respite was short-lived.
Just weeks later, during his winter break, a combination of stressors
contributed to a depression unlike any he had known before, and thoughts of
suicide began to creep into his mind.
"It was as if my illness had reached a new level," he said."
Each night I'd go to bed praying the next day would not be
To combat his depressive symptoms, his psychiatrist prescribed an
antidepressant that winter. During the four to six weeks that it took to take
effect, Monti wondered if he would survive.
Worried about his condition, family members began to call him each evening.
Their support made all the difference to him at this time, he said, because he
knew he couldn't "make it
Jim Monti: "Depression left a scar on my soul." He is a
senior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Monti also lost his appetite. After a couple of weeks of being unable to
bring himself to eat, he tested the limits of his appetite problem. "I
found a Ben and Jerry's ice cream stand. I figured anyone can eat Ben and
Jerry's—but I couldn't."
Soon thereafter, his psychiatrist prescribed lithium, which took exactly 25
hours and 37 minutes to work, according to Monti.
"I was staring at my computer, facing southwest in my apartment, and
I just felt normal," he recalled. "I felt as if a black veil had
been lifted from my head."
After he began taking lithium, Monti said, "the playing field was
leveled, and it was finally my turn to put up a fight against this
For instance, he began to confront "irrational thinking
patterns" in therapy, which he called the "rehab of mental
illness." He observed that "antidepressants will not make us
happy; they will keep us from being depressed." The rest is hard work,
Monti continued to rely on the support of family and friends and posted
motivational signs on the walls of his apartment. One read, "Bipolar
disorder picked the wrong person."
Monti recently completed a summer internship at NAMI headquarters in
Arlington, Va., where he worked on the organization's campus affiliate
initiative. He is now a senior and plans to recruit students to carry on his
work at NAMI UIUC.
"It is our job to ensure that students with mental illness get the
support and help they need," he noted. "I truly believe that with
this campus initiative, we can do that."