Content warning: The following text describes suicide and can be disturbing and/or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.
We’ve all seen the TikToks on our FYP claiming Penn as one of the most depressed schools in the country. At the forefront of the constant student conversation around mental health is senior Milan Chand (C ‘24). Exuding joy, Milan works with passion and enthusiasm to promote mental health awareness and make those around him feel heard and loved. Juggling his social life and alter ego as a pre–med student keeps him on the go. But, despite his busy schedule, Milan always ensures that his mental health is his first priority.
Name: Milan Chand
Hometown: Newtown, Connecticut
Minors: Asian American Studies, Urban Studies, and Chemistry
Activities: President of Active Minds, Phi Gamma Delta, Senior Advisor of InterCol, Sphinx Senior Society, Carriage Senior Society, The Order of Omega Senior Society, Physical Health Advisory Board, SNF Paideia Advisory Board, Jordan Porco Foundation Board of Directors, Peer Practitioner at Restorative Practices @ Penn, Research Assistant at Boundaries of Anxiety & Depression Lab
You’re quite involved with mental health awareness initiatives, could you tell me how it all started?
So, it’s a little deep. Coming from Newtown, which is where the Sandy Hook shooting happened when I was a kid, was really impactful since my entire life went around it. It was very pivotal to my identity. Because of it, I ended up getting really involved with mental health awareness within my town. I joined a lot of different nonprofits that came about from the Sandy Hook shooting, and one of the most influential organizations in my life was the Avielle Foundation.
I ended up joining this incredible group that was trying to learn about the basis of violence and compassion in the brain. My mentor, Dr. Jeremy Richman, was the reason why I fell in love with neuroscience, the reason I want to study the brain, and the reason I want to become a psychiatrist. He truly inspired me to be so inquisitive about why humanity is the way it is.
So that’s what really pushed me to continue that mission and I ended up working at Yale for a summer because of it. Then, I came here and fell in love with the neuroscience department, and really wanted to incorporate that sort of intersectionality with Asian American people, queer people, and all the different aspects about our identities that influence that.
You’re the President of an Active Minds chapter at one of the most depressed schools in the country, do you think that influences your experience as a mental health leader at all?
Coming from a place where there was so much sadness, so much grief, and so much tragedy, it’s not something that I’m not used to. It’s interesting, because they think attacking every problem becomes an uphill battle, but that also gives me so much inspiration and hope. I know there’s so much to change, so much stigma to work around, and that means starting from the bottom to really have the entire view of what you can do on this campus.
It starts from talking to administration and going from the top down, and really making sure we can have conversations about policy change when it comes to what resources are available to students. Then it’s also about engaging with students, from a smaller event like having a conversation about seasonal depression disorder, all the way to making a larger event about suicide awareness and suicide prevention.
We had an incredible moving exhibit from our national committee called Send Silence Packing. It displays the stories of college students who have all had struggles throughout their lives and brings that to the forefront of students in their everyday lives to say: this is real, this is important, this is what you should always keep in mind. So I think it definitely has its everyday battles and trying to make people care is definitely hard. I think if you were able to have that conversation, if someone is personally affected, they’re very willing to listen to you.
As a member of the Board of Directors for the Jordan Porco Foundation, could you tell me a bit about that experience and what it entails?
When I was working with the Avielle Foundation in high school, I was connected to a bunch of nonprofits. I really wanted to move the way in which suicide prevention is talked about.
The leader of the Avielle Foundation, Jeremy Richman, ended up committing suicide in my junior year of high school. That was very tough for me when I was going through high school. That experience was definitely tough, but it made me very aware of the problems that can afflict people as old and as wise as Jeremy, all the way to kids today.
I got invested in the Jordan Porco Foundation because they came to schools and college campuses to really help students gain the awareness and ability to know that there’s resources on campus, and there’s so many people you can talk to. Moving from being an ambassador my freshman year, to being invited onto the board, to actually having more of an impact was really exciting for me. I got something that I find and hold very deep, and it brings so much joy to my life that I can have that impact.
What would you say is your most rewarding memory from working so deeply in the mental health sector?
I think it’s been the past four years here. Again, we are rated the number one most depressed campus, but that doesn’t mean that the small things we have been doing in the mental health community don’t have an impact.
I think the things I’ve learned from just being here on campus and doing the small work, I’ve had the ability to talk at least seven different friends away from serious harm. I think that in and of itself, it’s just so incredible that someone was at the point that they were about to take their life. I’m so grateful that they’re still here today.
I feel as though that’s what my legacy is. I want that to continue on this campus, the idea that students have the ability to know how to deal with these situations and that they have the passion and the drive to be able to help their friends. But more than that, we can all see that we’re all just human at the end of the day, and that at this university, everything is really hard. But we can all look out for each other, because a life is a life.
Outside of advocacy, I saw you were a research assistant at the Boundaries of Anxiety & Depression Lab, could you tell me about your work there?
On the academic side, it’s definitely a complete switch–up, but I really enjoy the research side of things. Neuroscience and psychology are my passions, and I’ve been studying those for four years now, so it’s nice that I can actually understand what’s happening.
I’ve been doing a lot of work. I’m actually going to Seattle for a conference next week to talk about the way in which we're constantly learning new things about anxiety and depression. Specifically, my work revolves around looking at comorbid anxiety and depression and observing the differences in extraversion. Also, seeing the ways in which excitement–seeking, and all these different facets of depression have different severity levels and different correlations with the ways in which anxiety and depression are distinct.
How do you plan on staying involved with mental health advocacy after you graduate?
I hope to work in a psychiatric office next year during my gap year. I really want to make sure that my life mission is not just being committed towards psychiatry and therapy. I want to be sure to keep in mind that there is always work you can do on the ground too.
So making sure the skills that I have learned from college and beyond, and the workshops I’ve been able to host, and the people I’ve been able to talk to, continue to be a part of my life outside of Penn. I think that’s going to be something that you have to constantly work towards and make time for, but self–care is always, always the best.
Could you tell me a bit about your academic interests surrounding Asian American Studies and Urban Studies here at Penn?
Coming into Penn and college in general, I was very unaffiliated with my Asian American identity. I didn’t really even see myself as Asian and I learned so much in the first year from just taking an Asian American Studies class. It is probably one of my favorite programs here at Penn. It’s the best department, hands down. By just taking one class, it pushed me to minor in it.
I also felt like I was able to discover so much of my queer identity as well through that. Taking an Asian American gender and sexuality course and coming to Penn after just coming out at the end of high school was so important. It was so important to understand the intersectionality and how my experiences are very different from other people’s experiences, but also how I can find commonalities. So overall, I think it was really, really, vital to my progression as an Asian American and I feel much more solidified.
You clearly have a very busy schedule, what do you do to get a break from it all?
My God, happy hours with my best friends, always a great way. I’m heading to happy hour right after this. But honestly, I enjoy just taking a break and relaxing in the moment. I don’t sleep much, which is unfortunate, but I think spending time with my best friends and all the people in my life makes me feel more at peace and makes the work I do worth it.
Favorite food truck at Penn? Lyn’s
Dream vacation spot? The Maldives
Favorite study spot on campus? The tables above Van Pelt that overlook College Green
No–skip album? Renaissance by Beyonce
There’s two kinds of people at Penn… Type A people and Type B people
And you are? Type A
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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