Jenna Malley: The AMAZING Campaign
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m Jenna: the daughter of a badass single mother, a twin, a fiancée, and a dog mom. My mother is the person that taught me that I could do anything I put my mind to and is the person that taught me to stand up for myself and for what I believe in. My twin sister made me a competitive person, but always in the spirit of friendship. My fiancé showed me patience when we first met and has since become the first person to show me what true love really is. Perhaps most importantly, my dog taught me that mental illness does not discriminate.
I adopted my dog sight-unseen from a high kill shelter in Tennessee as an emotional support animal while I was in graduate school getting my MS in chemistry. I was having an incredibly difficult time, and medication, weekly therapy, and group counseling were not cutting it anymore. In the years prior to starting graduate school, I lost my best friend to suicide, was stalked for eight months and sexually assaulted, found out that I had never met my biological father (turns out, I’m from a sperm donor), and lost both of grandparents.
My dog came up from the South in a transfer van filled with other dogs in crates, shaking and scared. I was terrified that I had just made the biggest mistake of my life adopting a 2.5-year-old dog that I knew almost nothing about. However, the second the rescuers put him in my arms I knew: I had just made the best choice of my life. I took him to the vet to make sure he was healthy after leaving the shelter, and found out that he has an anxiety disorder likely from his time in the high kill space, but I knew right then and there that he was the one for me. In the nearly 3 years since I adopted him, he has been the best thing in my life. He consistently gives me a reason to get out of bed, always makes sure I go outside and is an instant source of comfort during panic attacks. He is genuinely the first animal to make me question if “Who rescued who?” is really such a cliché.
How/why did you get into the mental health field or mental health advocacy? Tell us about the work you do.
I lost my best friend to suicide when we were 19. I started going to a grief counseling group run through Samaritans called SafePlace made specifically for loved ones that have lost someone to suicide. Every time I went to these groups, I realized that I was not alone in my own mental health struggles or in my grief. Instead of feeling vulnerable when I shared my story, I felt heard and appreciated.
Two years after Kennedy died, myself and my friend Jackie wanted to find a way to honor her memory. We did this through t-shirt sales that said AMAZING backward so that people could see for themselves in the mirror how AMAZING they were. When we launched the campaign, we did not intend for it to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit, we expected it to last maybe a week. However, we were inspired by the stories we heard from people that received the shirts and felt confident and more inspired to talk about mental health openly when asked about the shirt. We knew we could not just let The AMAZING Campaign end. To this day, we still do not profit off the campaign: all of the proceeds have been donated or used for website upkeep and we plan on forming scholarship funds in the near future.
Shortly after the campaign launched, I was asked to speak on a youth panel for a conference at the Riverside Trauma Center. From there, I was recruited to be a Young Adult Speaker for Minding Your Mind, an organization that promotes crisis-based prevention versus crisis-based intervention. I have had the absolute pleasure of speaking from students as young as first grade to doing teacher training and more.
I never intended to become a mental health advocate. I remember when I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety (a week apart from Kennedy) and I was ashamed. Kennedy and I were both embarrassed to talk about it fearing the ridiculous stigma that comes along with a mental illness diagnosis. Since becoming an advocate, I have learned that yes, the stigma does exist, but only because we allow it to. I want to change that.