by Len Lear
Melissa Ann Hopely, a musician and author of “The People You Meet in Real Life” who admits battling obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), will speak Wednesday, April 16, 4 p.m., at the Chestnut Hill Library, 8711 Germantown Ave.
The stories in “Real Life” range from cancer survival to bullying, addiction, divorce and domestic abuse. Melissa, 26, is a 2009 honors graduate of Immaculata University and speaks with Minding Your Minds’ speaking program about mental health, specifically depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anti-bullying, positive coping and peer support. In the past year alone, she has spoken at more than 150 schools. In fact, she has spoken to audiences of children, young adults, teens and adults in more than 10 states, 20 cities and two countries, where her combined audiences have consisted of more than 25,000 people.
She told us last week that her message to young people is: “You are not alone; you matter, and there is help available. Don’t be ashamed to be going through anything because it doesn’t define you, and we all have a story and something that has the possibility to make us stronger. Stay #hopestrong…
“I battle obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Although my struggles can be difficult at times, I still live every day, just the same as all of you.”
According to Melissa, who is on the board of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and who mentors a peer-to-peer support group called CogWell at the University Of Pennsylvania that is student-run, “I just feel like my ultimate purpose is to share my love for life by speaking publicly about my story, so others will hopefully find that it is OK to struggle and to be unique. My biggest goal right now is to show that even when one lives with a physical or mental illness or disorder, they can still lead a pretty normal and even amazing life.”
Melissa grew up in Havertown and graduated from Cardinal O’Hara High School. At Immaculata U., she majored in psychology and played on the softball and soccer teams, which she calls “another positive way of coping.” She chose not to say where she lives today because “I speak around my area schools and know some kids live close to me.”
In Melissa’s book, “The People You Meet in Real Life,” you will meet “over 30 amazing people with inspiring stories (all with different obstacles faced such as cancer survivor, loss of a child to suicide, bullying, amputee survivor, domestic abuse, soldier with PTSD, etc.) who have helped me realize that I am not alone, my story matters, and I am strong and resilient enough to get through anything.”
The eBook of “Real Life” (Brighton Publishing LLC) is now available on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites. The print version will soon be available through Ingram, the world’s largest book distributor. Mariel Hemingway states in the foreword of the book: “Melissa has a passion to share her life, her enthusiasm and her own experience as a way to empower, uplift and inspire others to see the relationships that we have in life as a way to learn.”
One message Melissa consistently delivers to her audiences is that those suffering from chronic depression or other possible symptoms of mental illness must seek help and not stay silent because of shame or social stigma. Sufferers often do not seek help “because we’re so afraid of what our peers might say or what our teachers might say…So we sit here and struggle with something we cannot control, but we hide it from everyone because it is not accepted like cancer or heart disease…”
Melissa, who is also a very talented vocalist (you can see a video of her singing with guitar accompaniment on her website), has been recognized for her advocacy work with numerous awards, including the honorable mention Jerry Greenspan Student Voice of Mental Health Award given by the Jed Foundation of America at a gala in June, 2009, in New York City.