Summer Moss found herself drowning in deadlines and stressed out after the first year of her graduate program, having nearly forgotten why she had enrolled in the first place. Searching without success for mental-health services available through her Medi-Cal health coverage, she turned to one of her Samuel Merritt University (SMU) professors.
“I remember being freaked out and looking for someone to talk to,” said Moss, who recalled how closely the professor listened to her. “It was validation for me that somebody cared when I was feeling lost.”
Her professor recommended she go to the SMU Student Health and Counseling Center, where Moss learned how to better navigate her insurance to find mental-health resources in the community. She also found that there weren’t enough staff psychologists to meet students’ need for counseling — a common problem at campuses across the country.
Moss was advised to check out Active Minds, a national organization that promotes more open conversations about mental health among college students. The nonprofit network, which now has a presence on more than 600 campuses nationwide, was created in 2001 by a University of Pennsylvania student following the suicide of her older brother to encourage students struggling with problems to seek help.
Two weeks after discovering the organization, Moss started an Active Minds chapter at SMU to raise awareness and combat the stigma surrounding mental-health issues.
The student-led group is offering a Mental Health First Aid course July 14 on SMU’s Oakland campus. The daylong certification course is designed to teach participants the skills necessary to recognize when someone is in a mental-health crisis and provide appropriate support.
Mental-health problems such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse among students have long plagued university campuses. A new study examining the impact of Active Minds shows that such student-run advocacy organizations can improve campus attitudes toward mental health and encourage people to help others in crisis.
Since Moss first started the chapter just over a year ago with the help of a few of her fellow students in SMU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, interest has spread and the group has sponsored several educational and outreach events.
The upcoming course will be taught by Juan Cuba, a mental health educator at La Clinica de La Raza in Oakland, and the Active Minds group hopes to make it a monthly event open to students, faculty and staff as well as the outside community.
Moss said mental-health awareness is not only useful on campus, but will help students identify problems with their patients as future healthcare practitioners.
While she has devoted a lot of work into building the student organization on top of her studies, Moss said it also has been personally empowering.
“I’ve had a huge paradigm shift in how I view myself,” she said.