While there’s no shortage of days, weeks and months commemorating mental health—perhaps most notably National Mental Health Awareness Week in May—some students embraced a new one this month: Student Mental Health Week, Feb. 6 to 12.
For students like Cherrial Odell of Stanford University, the cause is extremely personal. A survivor of self-harm and adverse childhood experiences, Odell is acting president of the university’s Mental Health Club and co-founder of the Wellness Buddies substance-free social life and wellness program, as well as certified as a Stanford peer counselor, a confidential support counseling member and a whole-human wellness adviser. In addition, she serves as an advisory board member for both Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and Jewel’s Inspiring Children Foundation (which she credits with helping to save her life).
Those two nonprofits—along with the Jed Foundation and Young Invincibles (each focused on young adults and mental health) and Varkey Foundation (focused on improving the quality of education)—have partnered with Chegg on the Student Mental Health Week initiative. The aim is to destigmatize mental health among students, encourage young people to look after themselves and inspire conversations around what educational institutions can do along with policy makers, the wider community, parents and students to support student mental wellness.
Here is a breakdown of event highlights from students at two institutions, Stanford and Georgetown Universities, and a look at other activities from the week.
Actions for Wellness Art
Throughout Stanford’s events—which included meditation and yoga sessions, a mental health boba night, interactive displays, a raffle, a take-a-flower/give-a-flower meetup, a mental health “check-in” at a residence hall, and a student story-sharing event—student organizers surveyed their peers about things they do for their mental health.
About 1,000 students participated in total, and the 129 responses to the survey were used to create a virtual word art mural, which was sent out to everyone on the event mailing list, says Odell. The most popular actions students take for mental wellness? Based on the completed mural, the top four moves are: meditate, eat, cry and sleep. Other popular responses relate to working out and doing relaxing activities (journaling, sitting in nature, spending time with friends, etc.).
The Wellness Buddies Instagram page helped promote and recap events.
Mental Health Priorities Workshop
Georgetown student Shreyaa Venkat—also founder and CEO of the nonprofit NEST4US (which mobilizes volunteers worldwide to act on societal issues through kindness, generosity and social good)—co-hosted an interactive workshop over Zoom on how students can holistically prioritize their mental health.
Called Mindfulness for Student Wellbeing, the event featured motivational speaker Uma Panch from Australia, who shared insights about mindfulness practices plus ideas to help students make their mental health a top priority. Participants were encouraged to engage in transparent discussions about their own struggles and victories, and activities involving positive messages took place via chat.
Venkat, who is producing a one-minute video with tips and tricks students can use to prioritize their mental health, says workshop participants (approximately 30) received certifications of participation that count as an hour of community service.
Student Mental Health Week also involved a Jed Foundation Q&A on Instagram Live and finalists of a $100,000 student prize from Chegg.org sharing how they practice mental wellness. Continued efforts will include working with students worldwide to call for more robust mental health supports from their respective governments and policy makers.