Name of Innovative Program:
Aevidum: Creating a Network of Student Mental Health Advocates
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Aevidum began in a Pennsylvania high school in 2003 after a student died by suicide. The word Aevidum, which was created by students, means “I’ve got your back.” Aevidum now exists at the club level in over 50 elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and colleges and has spread to Delaware, Florida, and California. Its mission is to utilize the gifts and talents of students to raise awareness of mental illness, suicide, and other issues facing youth while encouraging students to seek help and advocate for their peers in need. The project creates a generation of mental health advocates who disseminate accurate and reliable mental health information from professionals in a way that relates to and excites their peers.
Creativity and Innovation:
Aevidum is innovative because it encourages motivated adults within a school to step aside and empower student advocates to use their voices to share information about mental health, suicide prevention, and other youth issues. By utilizing the voices and talents of youth, Aevidum shatters the silence associated with these often-stigmatized topics while spreading its message. When students see their peers encouraging help seeking and advocating for those in need, other students follow. The Aevidum message is delivered creatively through a series of student-generated materials, interactive displays, high-energy assemblies, community events, music, artwork, stories, and PSAs, etc. Aevidum students have written original rap music, held pep rallies, and lined the walls of their school with stories, all inspired by information from mental health experts. Schools with Aevidum transform and adopt cultures of care and advocacy, where all students recognize warning signs and know what to do to help someone in need.
Aevidum partners with a variety of national and local organizations to spread the “I’ve got your back” message and aims to increase awareness in a variety of ways. Through the Aevidum chapter at Penn State University, the university has developed mental health training for pre-service teachers based on the Aevidum philosophy. These students will be able to integrate the Aevidum model into their classrooms as they begin their careers as future teachers. Aevidum’s student advocates also engage their community in shattering the silence associated with mental health issues. They have been invited to provide the student voice at the American Association of Suicidology and the National School Nurses Association’s national conferences, among others. Additionally, Aevidum clubs provide presentations to their local organizations, such as rotary chapters. Aevidum has also extended beyond the school setting, which led to the formation of a chapter at a YMCA.
Aevidum clubs require little cost to run and maintain as schools have most resources readily available, such as meeting space and access to computers. Aevidum activities, such as writing a song or holding a school-wide assembly, are not expensive to the clubs. Aevidum students prove to be devoted fundraisers when planning an event for their school. However, Aevidum strives to expand its message beyond the school walls and involves the community. In many communities with Aevidum clubs, local groups have stepped up to assist Aevidum efforts with both financial and in-kind donations, such as county and state mental health organizations and local businesses and civic groups. Aevidum receives requests to expand on a weekly basis, which reaffirms the need for the project.
Aevidum, which began in one high school, now exists in over 50 schools. The program has been successfully adapted to exist in the elementary, middle, and high school levels as well as universities and community institutions. Aevidum receives frequent requests to expand to additional groups. To support all clubs, Aevidum sends out a monthly newsletter with a theme, program opportunities, and information from mental health professionals. Aevidum is in the planning stages for a regional or national conference for both student advocates and adult advisers to provide additional training, support, and energy. Because Aevidum uses the student voice, additional clubs are successful regardless of different school demographics. The students and club advisers in each school take the Aevidum message and adapt the monthly theme to best fit their school environment. Consequently, Aevidum has gathered a vast variety of music, public service announcements, and artwork geared toward wide-ranging demographics.
Aevidum maintains consistent dialogue with its club advisers in schools to monitor referrals and visits to the school guidance office. The majority of schools see an increase in visits and referrals after Aevidum events. Within individual clubs, membership remains consistent or increases from year to year. In collaboration with experts in the fields of mental health and education, Aevidum also has developed a school curriculum for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools that spans two days’ lessons. Early data from the program reveals that the curriculum increases the students’ knowledge and understanding of mental health issues. However, formal pilot data is scheduled to be collected in Spring 2014 through pre and post test assessments.