One Cape: Eric Mahnken

I’m originally from Perryville, Missouri. I’m currently a senior at Southeast Missouri State University and now a proud Cape Girardeau resident. I have always wanted to work with people as that’s what I do best. I thought about going into family counseling or substance abuse counseling; that’s kind of what I work with right now – I’m an office tech in a substance abuse facility. I’ve gotten to see the side of Cape that people don’t want to talk about and have seen some of the issues that actually go on. I’ve seen a lot of people turn their life around and decide to move to Cape. They think this is a good place for them now; a fresh start. My job is the one that works most hands-on with the clients. The counselors see them a couple times a week and in a few groups, but we spend the most time with them. So you really get to learn a lot about them, more about their past and everything that has sort of lead them to where they are now. It’s a really neat job. I really get a lot out of it. 
The process of coming out was a long one. I guess it all started when I was really young since I’ve always known growing up that I was gay. Even back in grade school whenever everyone else was talking about, you know, the other girls in the class and all that stuff, I just didn’t see them the same way. For a while, I tried to convince myself that I could see a girl like that so I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to date my best friend,’ who happened to be a girl at the time – go figure. Even up through high school I really didn’t want to tell anyone I was gay. I was worried about coming out because this area can be very homophobic, and there’s not really any kind of support in the community for LGBT students or children. It’s really dangerous for us to come out because you don’t know if they’re going to be kicked out, or disowned, or what’s going to happen to them. That was the last thing I wanted to happen – to be kicked out of my house or out of my school, you know? I really didn’t fully come out until I got to college, because I was on campus where I felt much safer. 
After coming out, I found a home with the University’s Gay-Straight Alliance organization, now called PRIDE. I started as public relations chair as a sophomore with the organization and later became president. I serve as a mentor and educator at the University’s LGBT Resource Center. 
I forget the exact number, but there are quite a few LGBT students on campus. Whenever I go to some of our PRIDE meetings and see on average 20-30 students, I think that there’s a lot of students that we aren’t reaching that might need some of the information, or might need to meet someone and have someone to talk to. It’s kind of hard whenever people just aren’t okay discussing things, because they’ve never been able to talk about it before.
Just wanting to work with mental health and all, I think that there’s a lot that people don’t want to talk about. One topic that is especially interesting to me is depression and suicide. There’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to things like ‘I felt sad for a while’ or ‘I was really down,’ like that’s not depression. Real depression is a lot worse, and people need to try and be more educated on the symptoms and warning signs.
These are things I want to help work on my senior year here, especially through my campus work, just talking about mental health and sexual health and get people talking about the things that we were never able to talk about when we were in grade school, middle school or even high school. I just want to educate people and make people more comfortable in discussing these things, and that way we can better the school, better the community and better the world.”
— Eric Mahnken

#OneCape KickoffOne Cape: Who embodies the spirit of our community? Tell us here:

Cape Girardeau is full of people working hard, caring for others, volunteering their time for worthy causes, helping neighbors, and generally staying fired up about our community. We want to know who you feel embodies the spirit of teamwork and a unified “One Cape.” Tell us about the special people in your life and why you feel they’re a great example of our community here. Several may be selected to be a part of our One Cape story online and in social media.