Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Active Minds

Name of Innovative Program: 
Changing the Approach, Utilizing the Next Generation
Sponsoring Organization
Active Minds
Name of Innovative Program Lead: 
Sara Abelson
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Project Description: 
 Untreated mental health problems on college campuses are costly.  A thousand students die by suicide annually and additional thousands drop out or underachieve.  Modern treatments work, but are underutilized.   Research on obstacles to help-seeking among college students has focused on attitudes and information, but structural/institutional factors also undermine treatment access for struggling students.   To identify what colleges can do, in designing care delivery systems, this project will use data collected from over 80 campuses (Healthy Minds Study) to examine if and how factors such as proximity between counseling and health services and number of free sessions available to students impact utilization.  Scientific identification of structural factors that could increase treatment for those in need will provide foundation for a comprehensive advocacy campaign, using more than 350 student-led chapters of Active Minds across the country, to make structural changes needed to save lives and revolutionize the way campuses are set-up to support and foster student mental health.
Creativity and Innovation: 
 Active Minds is the leading national organization empowering students to speak openly about mental health, educating each other and encouraging help-seeking.   Like others, we have focused on changing the conversation with information about signs and symptoms, sources and effectiveness of treatment, and stigma-reduction through personal contact with successfully recovering peers.   Our work has had important impacts and has saved lives; but education and conversation cannot overcome structural obstacles.  Combining science with the advocacy power of our 350+ chapters to force new attention to policy and care delivery design is exciting and innovative.  It is on the cutting-edge of mental health work nationally, which is beginning to embrace a comprehensive public health approach to prevention and promotion.  Our proposed research and advocacy campaign represents a unique and innovative way to adapt this new approach rapidly, rooted in empirical data, and bring measurable change to campuses across the country. 
 This project will educate, train and empower a new generation of mental health advocates.  It utilizes an existing network of powerful students who have already impacted campus leadership to enhance student mental health and the field of behavioral health.  Active Minds at George Washington successfully campaigned to remove fees for student visits to campus counseling services.  Active Minds at the University of Dayton got information about seeking help for self-harm on all university identification cards.   This project will begin with and be based on sound empirical research, using the findings to empower student leaders and help them make a difference on their own campuses and prepare them to be future leaders in behavioral health care.   Findings about mental health care delivery and structures on college campuses and an effective campaign for change will provide important lessons for the broader field. 
 This project requires little start-up cost for ongoing translation of science to advocacy to constructive change.  It will create a lasting partnership between the country’s largest college-focused mental health advocacy group (Active Minds) and leading scientists who direct nationally representative surveys of campus mental health, including Daniel Eisenberg (Healthy Minds Study), Dr. Chris Brownson (National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education), and Dr. Ben Locke (Center for Collegiate Mental Health).   These data collections are ongoing and self -sustaining, through campus buy-in, and this project will foster key collaboration and translation to practice on campus.  The proven ability of Active Minds to roll out centrally developed tools and programs, through established chapters on hundreds of campuses, over many years, also supports the sustainability of our work.  Once this project is completed, its impact will continue to spread across the country as we continue to add more and more campuses to our network.  
Both the research and advocacy campaigns would be specifically designed to be reproducible.   Initial analyses would be exploratory, shedding light on important institutional factors influencing campus mental health, supporting follow-up  analyses to be applied to additional data sets and future years of Healthy Minds data.  Success would establish a repeatable model of integrating science with advocacy and policy/structural change.   The advocacy campaign will be designed with core components and leadership training so that it can be rolled out successfully by all Active Minds chapters.   Success on one campus would be replicated across the country, with designed-in flexibility to adapt to different campuses.  It would also provide a model for other student organizations , which would try to replicate its success.  Active Minds would be dedicated to sharing the campaign at conferences and through our partner organizations.
After completing a carefully designed research project in order to ensure that campaign development is based on sound findings, we would then design both process and outcome measures for evaluation of our advocacy campaign.  We would assess reach of the campaign as well as fidelity of implementation by our chapters.   Each quarter we collect extensive data from our chapters about their activity, programming and successes, so obtaining information about the degree to which the advocacy campaign is adopted and implemented would be easy.  We would also then use the Healthy Minds study, which is conducted annually, to assess changes in help-seeking and counseling center utilization rates on campus.  We boldly aspire to one day be able to detect a measurable reduction in student suicide rates.