April 26, 2022 | Upswing Partners
Your Voice is Your Power: Empowering the Next Generation of BIPOC and LGBTQ Mental Health Advocates in School, State, and Federal Policy
Submission by Lauren Cikara, Director of K-12 Initiatives
Active Minds is the nation's largest organization mobilizing youth and young adults to change the landscape of mental health in America. Through innovative programming at more than 800 colleges and schools - including 162 middle and high schools - workplaces, and communities, Active Minds is mobilizing the next generation to change the culture around mental health so that everyone who needs help receives it as soon as its needed.
In partnership with The Upswing Fund, Active Minds launched a two-part initiative towards building a more equitable mental health workforce for this next generation:
Both YVYP and the Academy helped elevate the conversation about mental health in communities while students worked to advocate for mental health policies and more school resources to support themselves and their peers. Active Minds provided funding to all 120 BIPOC and LGBTQ participants in YVYP and the Academy, which empowered them to develop coalition- and advocacy campaign-building activities, recruit student and administrator allies to join their work, and to honor their time. Through the growth of YVYP and the establishment of the new Academy program, Active Minds has developed a successful foundation to replicate and scale these programs in the future. In addition, and in support of these two programs, Active Minds’ first K-12 team was developed.
The YVYP Program recruited 85 BIPOC and LGBTQ high school students, representing 60 schools. By the end of June 2021, 45 students completed YVYP having reached the program's goal of changing the culture and conversation about mental health in their schools. The YVYP program provided students with the tools to develop coalitions to advocate for school-based mental health policy changes that reduce barriers to services for themselves and their peers.
The Mental Health Advocacy Academy accepted 34 BIPOC and LGBTQ students to advocate for local, state, and federal mental health policy changes. Over four months, Academy participants received expert training and 1:1 mentoring to support them in developing a mental health advocacy campaign they will implement to support local, state, and federal policy change in 2022 and beyond.
This partnership has catapulted Active Minds’ work to grow and develop leadership skills among youth and to give them the confidence and expertise to continue leading mental health advocacy in their communities and perhaps in their future careers. A total of 120 YVYP and Academy students received valuable training from Active Minds and their national partners to elevate the conversation about mental health, and by the end of the grant period, 79 were able to complete their projects advocating for change, including excused mental health absences, mental health trainings, LGBTQ mental health supports, peer support, and mental health awareness and support for communities of color.
All of the Academy participants stated they will engage in advocacy beyond our program: 84.61% shared they will participate in a local coalition, 92.31% will register to vote, and 88.46% shared they would attend a policy event and share their views. These results have prompted Active Minds to invest in creating Active Minds’ own federal policy platform and to explore models for mobilizing young adults nationally and in key regions, in partnership with other youth-serving organizations, to elevate a youth perspective in state and federal policy efforts.
In February 2022, Active Minds launched the Active Minds Trailblazers. The Trailblazers are an elite group of youth and young adult mental health advocates who have previously participated in the Active Minds Mental Health Advocacy or the National Advisory Board facilitated by the Well Being Trust, Young Invincibles, and Active Minds. The Trailblazers are working to support school mental health policy work at the federal and state level and creating a mental health advocacy education campaign for the Active Minds student network.