Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicidal ideation.
When asked about a poignant memory from the past school year, an Active Minds student leader from a minority-serving institution shared that one day, they were just finishing up leading a suicide prevention training in a classroom when a young student approached with tears in her eyes and a hug. “I’m glad I came to class today. I was planning on killing myself this weekend.”
Inviting everyone into open conversations about mental health is so important, particularly at institutions serving students of color. Unfortunately, due to discrimination and other factors, students of color have a higher prevalence of depression and anxiety compared to white students. Yet, they are also among the least likely to seek help due to stigma.
Minority-serving institutions (MSIs) play a critical role in tackling this problem, providing access to education for millions of students of color, many of whom experience mental illness symptoms for the first time in college, triggered by the challenges of balancing school with other responsibilities. We also know that we are most effective in addressing mental health when we partner with those most impacted. That is why we engage students as equal partners and let students of color conceive, drive, and evaluate our Active Minds-sponsored efforts to address stigma in their communities.
With those principles in mind, Active Minds has achieved success in supporting students of color. We have started and sustained 132 MSI chapters to date, reaching approximately 80,851 students annually through the chapters’ unique programming and advocacy. We have supported student-led teams at 29 campuses to partner with Latinx-student-serving student groups and organizations. Together, through that work, we have reached more than a thousand students with culturally responsive messaging, more than 50% of whom reported having never attended a mental health program before.
However, there is still much work left to be done. This Minority Mental Health Month, we want to share our plans to continue supporting students of color in the next school year. We will:
- Announce that we have translated our most popular resources into Spanish, including this shiny new webpage, featuring free, downloadable “More than a Bad Day” and “How to Help a Friend” pocket guides.
- Invite interested speakers to apply to join our Speakers program, to which we are proactively seeking to add stories about navigating stigma within Latinx or Asian American communities, among many other topics. Applications are due August 5.
- Now available for download to students throughout the nation, Active Minds’ self-driven “Active Minds for Every Mind” workbook uses principles of Community Based Participatory Research to guide students in learning about the demographics of their community, engage with stakeholders, and build a movement that effectively responds to the needs of subpopulations among the student body.
- Launch at least eight new chapters at MSIs and support them with funding and enhanced technical assistance.
- Support our existing MSIs through exclusive grant and training opportunities throughout the year.
Our data shows that our efforts together to reach students of color are working. Over 80% of graduating senior members of Active Minds chapters at MSI campuses report reduced self-stigma and increased mental health knowledge, attitudes, and help-seeking behaviors as a result of their involvement.
We are grateful to the California Mental Health Services Authority, ECMC Foundation, and the Kiran Bavikatte Foundation for their support of our work to reach students of color. If you would like to join us in this effort, please contact us!