Young people are transforming mental health and wellbeing on campuses, online, and in their communities. Learn more about MHA’s programs that document their experiences and programs below.
The Young Mental Health Leaders Council (YMHLC) promotes young leaders and the unique ways they are driving change for their peers. YMHLC identifies young people (18-25) who have created programs and initiatives to fill gaps in mental health support and resources in their communities. YMHLC brings together young leaders from around the United States to connect to share their work and ideas with the countless advocates working to improve youth and young adult well-being around the country.
Concerns about mental health on campus have grown and gained attention in recent years. Research and reports have shown an increasing demand for supports and services on campus, but many colleges and universities cannot keep up with the needs of their students. For students, this can mean not knowing how to get help, asking for help and getting long wait times, or not getting the needed support to navigate higher education and their personal wellbeing.
While awareness campaigns are an important part of the solution, we must move away from traditional thinking to find new ways to fill gaps in services on campus to support students looking for help. It is time to focus on creative student-led solutions and advocacy.
With an understanding of the power of peer support and community, MHA's Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council (CMHIC) is dedicated to highlighting innovation on-campus that utilizes new approaches to resources and supports available to students. The program, which included three cohorts from 2017-2019, created annual reports that capture student perspectives and provide guides to students looking to bring new and effective mental health programs to their campuses.
Peer Support in College Mental Health Initiatives: Learning from the Peer Support Movement
With the growing demand for comprehensive mental health services in higher education, students and campus leaders have identified student peer support programs as an alternative or supplement to traditional clinical services and approaches. However, this trend has been met with concerns from administrators, campus leaders, and students on issues including providing adequate training for students and ensuring students are prepared to respond to mental health crises.
To address this gap, this paper shares the results of a survey of 85 participants and leaders in college mental health peer support programs in addition to five one-hour interviews with selected survey respondents. It then combines survey and interview findings with available resources and information developed and led by peers or peer-run organizations.
Recommendations to advance college peer support programs include:
- Elevating student and lived experience leadership.
- Ensuring adequate and comprehensive peer support training.
- Prioritizing trauma-informed and human rights-focused approaches to mental health crises.
- Investing in the future of college peer support and the broader mental health ecosystem.
Building Power to Build A Mentally Healthy World: Supporting and Advancing Youth Leadership
Youth voices are essential to addressing the current mental health crisis, yet young people’s perspectives and ideas are often dismissed. Youth leadership programs can address this barrier and engage new advocates and empower current leaders. But, to be most effective, programs must meet the comprehensive needs of young people.
MHA’s 2022 Young Mental Health Leaders Council report provides guiding recommendations to create leadership programs that support youth as people, in relationships, and as part of larger social change ecosystems. This means shifting practices of having power over young people to:
- Supporting young people to cultivate power within themselves,
- Building power with mentors through supportive relationships, and
- Organizing power to advance mental health through intentional intergenerational work.
Youth and Young Adult Peer Support: Expanding Community-Driven Mental Health Resources
With support from Well Being Trust, Mental Health America’s new paper, Youth and Young Adult Peer Support: Expanding Community-Driven Mental Health Resources, is a call to invest in a full continuum of youth peer support to address the growing youth mental health crisis.
The report explores why our current approaches are insufficient and the growing research and programs that support the ability of young people to support other youth. Whether they are learning how to listen to their peers, starting mental health clubs, or working in community mental health, the paper offers example programs and recommendations for barriers and key considerations in advancing and expanding youth peer support.
To change culture and resources to promote youth mental health, the report recommends that decision-makers partner with youth to:
- Invest in training to help ensure all young people have skills to promote mental health and support their peers,
- Integrate mental health promotion and peer support programs wherever young people spend their time, and
- Embed youth peer support specialists into all youth-serving systems.
Supporting College Students: Mental Health And Disability in Higher Education
Despite growing attention to wellbeing and mental health conditions in higher education, conversations and recommendations often exclude students with mental health disabilities.
Recommendations for campuses to improve accessibility for students with mental health disabilities include:
- Partnering with students to educate the campus community on mental health disabilities and accommodations
- Celebrating and educating students on disability culture and contributions through courses in disability studies and disability cultural centers
- Partnering with students with disabilities to train disability services staff to understand and develop appropriate accommodations
- Partnering with students with disabilities or disability services staff to provide navigation support during the disability accommodations process
- Creating alternatives to medical documentation of mental health disabilities due to structural barriers, like lack of health insurance or lack of diverse mental health professionals, that prevent many students from accessing mental health resources
- Training professors on mental health disabilities and accommodations, including how to support students requesting accommodations
Young People’s Mental Health in 2020: Hope, Advocacy, and Action for the Future
To have the greatest impact now and in the future, young people’s leadership and lived experience are critical. We must build on what has helped them and invest in what they feel would empower them to change their mental health and their communities' mental health.
This report, Young People’s Mental Health in 2020: Hope, Advocacy, and Action for the Future, shares the perspectives of 1,906 14-24-year-olds who completed our Young People’s Mental Health Survey through our online screening program, MHAScreening.org. Highlights from the survey include:
- Access to mental health professionals and mental health breaks as part of work or school were the top resources young people requested to support their mental health.
- Only 24% think training adults would help them with their mental health challenges, versus 47% who want to learn more about how to help their own mental health.
- 45% of 14-18-year-olds are not hopeful about the future, and more than half of LGBTQ+ teens are not hopeful about the future.
- Only 1 in 4 young people think they can make a change in mental health in their communities.
- Young people reported what they need most: support for their own mental health, opportunities to learn about mental health, connection to a mental health advocacy community, and training to support their peers’ mental health.
2020 Disability and Campus Mental Health Report
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on college students’ well-being, including students with mental health diagnoses. To understand the experiences of students with mental health diagnoses during the pandemic, MHA surveyed 471 college students who identified as having mental health disabilities about their academic experiences and needs during this time.
Major findings include:
- 70% of students with mental health conditions did not register for disability accommodations, yet only 20% reported it was because they did not want accommodations.
- The majority of students receiving disability accommodations for mental health disabilities reported their needs changed during the pandemic, but most did not feel supported by staff during the transition.
- Education and financial, cultural, and logistical barriers make accessibility services inaccessible for many students.
The 2018-2019 CMHIC Report: Making Space for Mental Health on Campus
The 2018-2019 report, Making Space for Mental Health On Campus, emphasizes how schools and students can make mental health resources more accessible by building them into the everyday lives of students and the places where they want to be.
- Expanding campus-based mental health resources should not rely on students finding traditional resources and services. With the leadership of students, mental health information and resources need to be tailored to and embedded in different communities on campus to best meet their needs.
- Students continue to demand and create formal peer support programs, even with push back from universities.
- To make support accessible, resources need to be available 24/7 in-person, via phone, and across campus, including in living spaces.
- Disability cultural centers create spaces where students with disabilities can connect with one another and celebrate disability culture and identity, as opposed to emphasizing disability as an impairment.
The 2017-2018 CMHIC Report: Beyond Awareness: Student-led Innovation in Campus Mental Health
The report focuses on the power of student leadership in disability supports, peer support, and technology in campus mental health and includes summaries and guides of each member's programs for expansion to additional campuses.
- For more comprehensive disability supports, student leaders can create education-based programs and skill-building supports for their peers, and students or faculty can lead courses for academic credit to allow students to prioritize their well-being. Students can also serve as navigators for the often confusing and challenging process of obtaining accommodations.
- Peer support is a critical part of engaging more students, providing support outside of hours spent in treatment, creating community, shifting demand from counseling services, and offering low to no-cost options for students looking for help.
- Technology can help students connect to existing professionals, support one another, and share information on well-being.