The Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab released the first episode of “The Mayo Podcast” on Tuesday, Feb. 28 as part of its initiatives to provide mental health and substance abuse resources on campus.
The initiatives use methods such as contemporary media, compelling storytelling and peer-to-peer discussions to increase education. The podcast can be found on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
The foundation’s namesake is Thomas Mayo, an Oxford native and University of Mississippi student who died on April 14, 2022, from fentanyl poisoning.
The Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab, an addition to the William Magee Institute for Student Wellbeing at UM, was created to honor the late 21-year-old’s life and assist those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.
David Magee, author of “Dear William,” and his wife, Kent Magee, founded the Magee Center in memory of their son, William, a standout student-athlete at the University who died of an accidental drug overdose following his graduation in 2012.
While the Magee Center has served students since 2019, the Mayo Lab and its use of contemporary media will attempt to reach those in the campus community that might be reluctant to walk through the physical office doors but are much more inclined to press play on a podcast.
“The primary goal of the Mayo Lab is to educate students, parents and educators about how things have changed in mental health and substance misuse challenges and what solutions are available to help students find and keep the joy they want and deserve,” David Magee said.
The Mayo Lab is described as an education resource with the eventual goal of introducing a curriculum on these topics to students from kindergarten to high school.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the percentage of adolescents with substance abuse issues remained steady in 2022 after significantly declining in 2021 following the COVID-19 pandemic, with 11% of 8th graders, 21.5% of 10th graders and 32.6% of 12th graders reporting any illicit drug use in the past year.
While any decline of drug use is encouraging, the dramatic rise in overdose deaths among people ages 14-18 is disheartening and largely attributed to contamination of drugs by fentanyl.
“The Thomas Mayo Lab is going to work to get on top of substance use when it often starts, in middle and high school. Through programming and support for students, families and educators, we hope to empower these people to find and keep joy and mental well-being,” Meagan Rosenthal, interim executive director of the William Magee Institute, said.
Through the use of media, the Mayo Lab hopes to reach individuals and families throughout Mississippi and beyond, not solely Ole Miss students.
“We want the public to hear about and use the knowledge we generate,” Rosenthal said.
The Mayo Lab is scheduled to open in the coming weeks, including two initial projects laying the foundation for the initiative.
One of the projects is the launch of “The Mayo Podcast”, a weekly podcast hosted by David Magee featuring students, researchers, educators and innovators.
The first episode of the podcast, which was available starting Feb. 28, is titled “Entrepreneur and Recovery Campion Zac Clark: How Students, Families Find Recovery” and focuses on student mental health topics including sleep, exercise and social media as well as topics such as alcohol, marijuana, fentanyl and counterfeit pills.
“Storytelling and engaging through personal stories has long been a foundation of human connection. We will never help students by telling them what not to do. We can help them by better connecting with them,” David Magee said.
While there are many resources available, people are often embarrassed or ashamed to seek help when needed. “The Mayo Podcast” will help to change this narrative by providing a valuable resource that does not require any potentially daunting face-to-face interaction.
The second initial project of the Mayo Lab is the implementation of The Happiness Team, a team of Ole Miss students that uses peer-to-peer education and storytelling to educate fellow students and support students struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.
Olivia Bacon, a freshman English major and member of The Happiness Team, said that she knew she wanted to join after she heard Magee speak about his family’s struggles with substance abuse.
“The idea is peer-to-peer storytelling: that students accept something easier if it comes from someone their own age who can relate to them best,” Bacon said.
In addition to peer education between Ole Miss students, The Happiness Team will begin traveling to schools around Mississippi to share personal stories about mental health and addiction in an effort to inform and educate high school students. The reasoning is that these students are at the age where these issues typically begin.
The Happiness Team also hosts fun activities for students in recovery.
“We meet for dinners every Wednesday with students at Ole Miss in recovery, to share cooking a meal with them and create a fun activity with no alcohol involved,” Bacon said.
If you are interested in becoming a part of The Happiness Team, the application can be found here.
Avery Kimbrell, a lifelong friend of Mayo, described him as, “the most selfless person you’ve ever met.”
As someone who has been through the recovery process himself, Kimbrell said, “One of the big issues today with addiction is the stigma that surrounds it, and the vast majority being uneducated. Having the Mayo Lab on campus is something that will help educate the whole community on addiction, and what it actually is a brain disease. That is a huge step in helping to remove the stigma around addiction in my eyes.”
Along with the podcast, the Mayo Lab will implement the use of daily newsletters to spread information and resources to its audience.
“My hopes for the Mayo Lab are very simple. I want our community to be better educated on addiction. I want it to be a place where students feel safe and most importantly I want it to save lives,” Kimbrell said.
The Thomas Mayo Lab initiative has received an overwhelming amount of support and donations, raising approximately $78,000 on a $30,000 goal on a university crowdfunding page. Magee says that he is grateful but not surprised by the amount of donations given to the Mayo Lab.
He hopes that the lab will become a model for schools around the country to implement mental health and addiction prevention resources on middle, high school and college campuses.
“I knew Thomas Mayo and he was a beautiful human, just like my late son William. Those we lose to accidental overdoses are often the sweetest, most sensitive,” David Magee said. “To see so many people honor Thomas’ legacy and others we’ve lost is so heartwarming, but also not surprising. People have had enough. They are ready for change.”