Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide.
One of the most important factors in terms of a student’s decision to seek help is campus climate. Students are uniquely positioned to have direct and immediate effects on their peers’ perceptions of mental health issues and their likelihood to access mental health services.
In the year 2000, as a college freshman, Alison Malmon lost her only brother to suicide. After his death, her family learned that Brian had suffered in silence for years. Determined to do something to change the way we approach mental health in this country, in 2003, Alison started Active Minds from her dorm room in an effort to educate and activate students to change campus mental health culture among their peers and save lives.
Today, Active Minds has a presence on more than 800 campuses with a reach of more than five million students. We work with student advocates to encourage their peers to learn about, talk about, and seek help for mental health issues just as they would for a physical issue—without shame or silence.
A landmark study published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry demonstrates that empowered students are highly effective drivers in shifting the campus climate to be more supportive of mental health. RAND Corporation surveyed more than 1,100 students at 12 colleges and found that as students become more involved with Active Minds, they are more likely to reach out to a classmate or friend who is struggling with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. Among the general student body, even basic familiarity of Active Minds increases knowledge and positive attitudes about mental health, creating a more supportive campus climate and increasing the potential that students in distress will seek mental health services.
This comes at a time when the country is grappling with rising suicides and a mental health crisis on campuses. It shows we can effectively address these problems by focusing on student-led change, and when we do, the effect is life-changing. In fact, researchers found that the shift in attitudes and behaviors is so swift, the effect can be seen within a single academic year.
That’s because students know students. They turn to each other when struggling with health. They are also experts in the most effective strategies to engage their fellow students and create a campus culture and climate that fosters mental health, physical health, and well-being.
Today, at a time when our institutions of higher education need it most, we are pleased to release Active Minds’ recommendations for campus administrators, faculty, staff, and students to shape a positive mental health climate on college campuses with and through peer-to-peer networks.
This report explains the impact of Active Minds’ peer-to-peer approach, examples of student-led strategies that are improving mental health outcomes on campuses nationwide, and recommendations for faculty, staff, administrators, and students regarding how to replicate this success on their own campuses.
When administrators involve students in positive change around issues like mental health, students are more invested, successful, and satisfied with their college experience. They gain leadership experience and critical-thinking skills, self-identity, and motivation that impact many areas of their lives. Particularly, students with disabilities feel more autonomy and better self-esteem when included. Studies also show that stronger academic performance and retention rates result from student involvement.
There is much work still left to be done in empowering student voices in campus decision-making. For technical assistance, more support, and examples of how university leadership are successfully partnering with students, contact Active Minds at activeminds.org.