Network Capital’s vision is to democratize inspiration and provide best possible career guidance and support through peer-mentoring. We are thrilled and honored to welcome Cecilia McGough who is an astronomer, activist, and writer as a Penn State Schreyer Honors College scholar. Cecilia is the founder of the Penn State Pulsar Search Collaboratory. She has been participating in pulsar research continuously since December of 2009, co-discovering pulsar J1930-1852 with the widest orbit ever observed around another neutron star, competing in the International Space Olympics held in Russia, and co-authoring her research in the Astrophysics Journal.
Cecilia is a mental health activist in fighting against the negative stigma towards mental illness. She is the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the soon to launch nonprofit Students With Schizophrenia which is the first nonprofit specifically focused on empowering college students with schizophrenia. Cecilia also blogs about her experience with schizophrenia in her blog and soon to be published book entitled “I Am Not A Monster: Schizophrenia” .
People usually first hear the word “schizophrenia” through the media which grossly over sensationalizes and misrepresents the majority of people with schizophrenia. In response, Cecilia is also a creative writer with the purpose to educate her readers and to help break the current image of schizophrenia. She is currently in the sample reader stages of her fantasy fiction novel entitled “Unheard Dialogues” which helps normalize characters depicted with mental health challenges particularly schizophrenia.
Network Capital sat down with Cecilia to learn more about her career and her vision for Students With Schizophrenia
Network Capital: What drives you?
Cecilia: I am one out of fifty-one million people worldwide who happen to have schizophrenia. That is one point one percent of the world’s population over the age of eighteen. Schizophrenia sees no prejudice in race or demographic and has no cure but only treatment for its symptoms. Schizophrenia is hallmarked by the following characteristics that may or may not include: hallucinations, delusions, and/or scattered thoughts. Schizophrenia needs a global platform. Today, I would like to speak on the behalf of people who have schizophrenia worldwide and raise awareness on the much-needed topic so stigmatized that it is often ignored even within the mental health community.
Unfortunately, There is a problem because one out of ten people who have schizophrenia take their own life through suicide, and another four out of ten attempt suicide at least once. I fall into this statistic. This is a problem because twenty-five point five million people are taking measures to end their own lives. This is even more shocking when you realize that there is no current nonprofit specifically focused on empowering college students who happen to have schizophrenia even though the peak age to have a schizophrenic break is early adulthood, the same age range as the typical college student. And, nonprofits focused on mental health, in general, are not enough because even in the mental health community, schizophrenia is shied away from because it makes people feel “uncomfortable.”
This is why I have decided to found the nonprofit Students With Schizophrenia where we will empower students through outreach to help educate and spread awareness for schizophrenia and also provide direct and concrete solutions with financial, academic, and support services to students who have schizophrenia and their families.
It is time to change the face of schizophrenia because the current representation is inaccurate. This is one face of a student who has schizophrenia. It is time to empower and UNLEASH resources to help students who have schizophrenia complete their education, live healthy and fulfilled lives, and have the ability and opportunity to pursue their dreams.
Lives are being lost, dreams are left unmet, and locked potential unreached. My name is Cecilia McGough. I have schizophrenia, and I am NOT a monster
Network Capital: If you were to reflect upon your careers, what would be some of the most defining moments that have shaped your professional journey?
Cecilia: The most life changing moment in my life was when I became open about having schizophrenia. I became open about having schizophrenia via a blog post that I also posted on my facebook wall. I was surprised about how much support I received. Even some of my friends opened up to me that they had schizophrenia! Now, I am dedicated towards being a mental health advocate.
Network Capital:Who are your mentors? How have they helped you?
Cecilia: My largest advocate and support network comes from my academic advisor who will remain nameless. Without her, I would not be in college. When I had my schizophrenic break, suicide attempt, and when even my parents were giving up on me, she was there and kept me in college at Penn State. She has invested over $3,000 of her own personal money when I went into medical debt and also lost my parental support. What other academic advisor would be this invested in her student? Seriously, without this amazing woman who believed in me when I was having a difficult time with believing in myself is the person I accredit my academic success towards. Without her caring spirit, fiery determination, and ability to get shit done, then I would not be here today. I owe this woman everything, and I am eternally grateful.
Network Capital:If you were to give your 18 year old self some advice, what would it be? Will the advice be different to your 30 year old self? If yes, what?
Cecilia: Having schizophrenia does not make you a monster.
Network Capital: What is the next big personal/professional ambition/target for you?
Cecilia: In early July of 2017, it came to the point in my life that I needed to put a 100% focus on the nonprofit Students With Schizophrenia both academically and professionally. You cannot give 100% to everything; the math just does not add up. Since, my life has become more intentional, more productive, and less overwhelming.
This means that I will be resigning my work with the Penn State Pulsar Search Collaboratory and also be switching my goals in classes to focus on health policy rather than pursuing astrophysics. In my heart, I will always love astrophysics and pulsars, and I can always return to it at a later date. However, the timing to launch this nonprofit is now. We are never going to get this traction and spotlight on the global level again; we need to take advantage of it now when we still have it otherwise risk losing current and potential resources and sponsors. Students With Schizophrenia will always remain just a passion project unless I make it my primary focus. This is bigger than me and my personal goals; there are too many people depending on this. Students With Schizophrenia is a rocketship that needs to launch. I know its trajectory and vision but unless I give it my 100% focus, then it is not going to reach its trajectory or full potential and even worse might crash and fail. I cannot get distracted. I cannot fall asleep at the wheel. Currently, there is no other nonprofit focused specifically on empowering college students who have schizophrenia. In a world where half of the people with schizophrenia attempt suicide and one out of ten take their own life, I cannot let them or myself down. From this day forward, I am dedicating myself towards successfully launching Students With Schizophrenia and helping students globally to no longer live in fear, reach their academic goals, and become the empowered individuals I know that they can be. It is time to change the face of schizophrenia, and it starts here.
Network Capital: What advice would you like to give to students and young professionals?
Cecilia: Do not be afraid to be yourself, and never give up on the things that matter the most to you especially yourself. Love who you are and help others. We are all alone without each other.
Network Capital is delighted to have Cecilia on board. Check out her inspiring TEDx talk.