A Penn Nursing Student Finds Her Niche for Helping

(Penn News) Marissa DeCesaris hopes to make an impact on improving care for the mentally ill.

The Nursing junior, a Marlton, New Jersey native, became interested in the field after taking a psychology class in high school. Her interested deepened as a Penn freshman, while working with Nursing Professor Nancy Hanrahan researching mental health services and people with mental illness.

DeCesaris, along with fellow students, Hayley Germack, Tony Krumbhaar and Emma Biegacki are currently working on a video project about mental illness awareness and patients’ recovery from mental illness. The project with the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania involves providing video cameras to people with mental illness to videotape and document their daily activities.

“There’s still stigmas surrounding mental illness, but what research has been finding is that people can and do recover from mental illness, says DeCesaris. “We’re giving them cameras so they can show people in their every day lives how their recovery manifests itself –their struggles going through recovery that help them through their recovery.”

The researcher team is still in the process of collecting videos from the participants. After the videos are edited, the Mental Health Association will use the videos as part of a public service campaign and to advocate for improvements in mental health services.

DeCesaris and the team has learned that adding to the challenges of many of the participants were personal problems such as homelessness, unemployment and drug and alcohol addictions.

“A lot of them had trouble finding jobs because of their histories, says DeCesaris. “So a lot of them wanted to show people who they are and that although they have mental illness, people shouldn’t be scared of them and people shouldn’t discriminate against them. So they really like the idea of having these videos to help improve their experiences and other people’s experiences.”

DeCesaris says the videos could become an educational tool for others who are dealing with mental illness. “We hope the videos will be an inspiration to them to show these people also used to be in a state psychiatric hospital and now they’re close to being able to live on their own, and showing them a success story that they’re able to live on their own, and recovery is possible”

DeCesaris hopes her research will eventually lead to better care and better understanding of mental illness. She plans to become a psychiatric nurse when she graduates in 2014.