John Cleaver Kelly Foundation Addresses Mental Health At Colgate


John Tessitore (pictured above) from the JCK Foundation visited Colgate to speak about OCD and mental health in honor of John Cleaver Kelly, a Colgate graduate who struggled with OCD throughout his life. 

Emily Rahhal, Maroon-News Staff

On October 18, representatives from the John Cleaver Kelly (JCK) Foundation presented information to the community on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and strategies to deal with mental health issues. 

The JCK Foundation works to improve awareness and support for people diagnosed with OCD. It was founded after the suicide of John Cleaver Kelly, a 2008 graduate of Colgate who struggled with OCD throughout his life. John Tessitore, a childhood friend of Kelly’s, spoke about Kelly’s and his own battle with OCD and presented a video he created about Kelly’s life and the foundation’s mission. Tessitore was accompanied by Kelly’s father. This was their second time speaking to the Colgate community, the first being in 2013. 

“[John Kelly] was the most genuine and special kid you could imagine. His heart was just massive,” Tessitore said. 

OCD is a mental disorder that causes uncontrollable obsessions or fears and compulsive behavior, often including excessive cleaning or constant perfectionism, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The average age of onset is 19, making college a particularly vulnerable time, and one in 40 adults in the United States is diagnosed with OCD, according to the non-profit organization BeyondOCD. 

Professor of Psychology Rebecca Shiner felt the presentation brought up important issues for the Colgate community. 

“Mental health problems are so common; in fact, half of all people will experience at least one significant psychological disorder across the course of their lives. Yet, we don’t often speak about such issues in a public forum. My hope was that this presentation would help the community better understand how prevalent such disorders are and would help de-stigmatize psychological disorders,”  Shiner said. 

The event was organized by the Psychology Department and the Colgate chapter of Active Minds. Though the Active Minds chapter doesn’t often host large events such this, senior co-heads Ellie Robbins and Chloe Stiffle feel talks can be an effective way to open conversations about mental health to the wider community as opposed to the smaller setting of Active Minds meetings.

“I think it’s good, though, that we do our smaller weekly meetings that are a lot more intimate and a lot more personal to each member. But that only helps the people that are there. [The conversation expands] through more exposure to people that aren’t normally at those meetings,” Stiffle said.

Stiffle and Robbins feel the stigmatization of mental health issues keeps the involvement in conversations about mental illnesses limited. Though they don’t feel they have seen an increased quantity of students involved in conversations surrounding mental health since they arrived at Colgate, they do feel the quality of these conversations has gotten better. Community members seem to be speaking out more publicly and more passionately.

“There are illnesses and you have every right to take care of yourself; you shouldn’t be ashamed. That being said, the way society treats and presents mentally ill people in the media is relatively negative. I think we are coming a long way, but seeing negative connotations with [mental health] makes it hard for people to express it about themselves,” Robbins said. 

Shiner feels students should treat mental health no differently from physical health, and should use the resources available on campus.

“Colgate students are notorious in their commitment to their physical health. We’ve been rated among the most fit campuses, and Trudy is often full of students eager to get physically healthy. And yet, I suspect that many students don’t pay as much attention to their mental health, which is crucially important for living a meaningful and satisfying life. I encourage students to reach out for support from friends, the Counseling Center, the Chaplaincy, and other people on campus when they are suffering,” Shiner said.

Contact Emily Rahhal at [email protected].