Whether academic, professional or personal, many students face challenges that can weigh on their mental health. In an effort to make this load lighter, the DMAX Foundation aims to engage college students in conversations to promote emotional wellbeing.
According to its website, Laurie and Lee Maxwell created DMAX, located in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in honor of their son, Dan Maxwell, who lost his life to suicide. The Maxwells vowed to inspire communities to support individuals who are struggling silently.
DMAX is employed at 17 schools across the country, including Lehigh. Operating under the tagline “Conversations that Connect,” the foundation’s mission is to create connections and conversations that strengthen mental health and emotional wellbeing for young people.
Cate Coffino, ‘25, co-president of DMAX at Lehigh, said the club provides a safe space for college students to talk about shared struggles, make new friends and overcome shame surrounding mental health. It is open to all Lehigh students.
“There is still a huge stigma surrounding mental health, and we are working to show people that it is okay to talk about their feelings and struggles,” Coffino said.
She said more students are attempting to be open about their mental struggles, but the subject is still taboo in some communities.
To help combat this, DMAX hosts weekly conversations called “Tuesday Talks” and “Thursday Thoughts” in Chandler-Ullman Hall that invite students to participate in open discussions, ensuring they have support from other students on campus.
In these meetings, participants pass around a “wellness whiteboard” where they can anonymously note topics they’d like to discuss that week. Participants then introduce themselves and reflect on something good, something bad and something they’re looking forward to that week.
Coffino said this icebreaker brings everyone together and offers insight into what is going on in their lives. Most, if not all, participants provide advice or reassurance that others need to hear, and it is not rare for people to share the same challenges.
“Through DMAX, my perspective has changed on a lot of things,” co-president Marie Gregoire, ‘25, said. “You get to meet people you maybe normally won’t meet on campus, and this definitely changed the way I view campus life and Lehigh life.”
Gregoire said around 15-20 students attend the weekly meetings. She said this shows there is a large chunk of the student population is not benefiting from the emotional outlet.
In a group of strangers, Gregoire said it can be difficult for people to talk about how they are feeling and be vulnerable.
She said over time, it becomes easier to build relationships between students because once one person shares a difficulty, it creates a ripple effect throughout the group and others begin to share.
Even as co-president, Coffino said she has struggled with being vulnerable and open with the group. She said encouragement from other members has shown her the importance of revealing that side of herself.
“Having difficult conversations creates this deep connection between club members that can be hard to form outside of the meetings,” Coffino said.
Zara Anwar, ‘25, attends weekly meetings and said they have become an event she looks forward to.
While some people might feel reluctant to attend meetings due to the fear of opening up, Anwar said DMAX creates an environment that values trust, patience and honesty.
“Everyone understands that people share at their own pace,” Anwar said. “But the more you go, the more you start to feel comfortable talking about sensitive issues. It all takes time.”
Coffino said DMAX’s impact is slow and steady. She said the group of students who attend regularly have grown close to one another, so their conversations feel natural.
She said the club has allowed members to recognize friendly faces on campus, helping them remember that in times of trouble, you’re never alone.
Even with the impact they’ve had, Coffino said there is still progress to be made in the coming semesters.
“We are looking to have more campus events in order to draw attention towards DMAX and show students that there is a place on campus to feel comfortable when they are struggling with small and big things,” Coffino said.