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How one student had the StAMINA to create a mental health revolution in her state

Friday, December 20, 2019

2019 National Honoree | Allison Tu of Louisville, Kentucky

Things changed in middle school. Stress, depression and substance abuse were becoming commonplace. Allison Tu saw it so clearly. Couldn’t the parents and teachers? Maybe they thought it was classic teenage angst, hormones or a flair for the dramatic. But mental health issues for youth throughout Kentucky were all too real. One student took their own life in sixth grade, then another freshman year.

The school’s reaction to the suicides only made things worse. They made a suicide prevention video mandatory. Students found it to be overly dramatic, and even funny. They openly mocked it, worsening the stigma around mental health issues.

“I’d had enough of watching my friends and peers suffer alone,” Allison said.

Creating a movement

With no solution in sight, she decided to create one. She covered her room in giant Post-its. Her wallpaper became ideas — the outline for a mental health revolution for her state.

Allison took a student-led grassroots approach and created StAMINA, the Student Alliance for Mental Health Innovation and Action. She consulted with teachers, advisers and peers until she built out a multiphase plan to systematically develop engaging mental health services and programs. A three-pronged approach would guide them — Learn, Build, Act.

Learn

Professors throughout Kentucky began to see the name Allison Tu pop up in their emails. Dr. Stephen O’Connor, professor at the University of Louisville, joined Allison’s team. They needed to capture student attitudes and conduct a baseline needs assessment. From the largest cities to small rural towns, StAMINA led focus groups to gain better understanding of student and parent perspectives. During this complex investigation, Allison encountered bureaucratic roadblocks. Her unwavering persistence helped keep up StAMINA’s momentum to clear such hurdles.

Build

At the same time, Allison used her position on the Kentucky Commissioner of Education’s Student Council to give StAMINA a platform. She gained a statewide pool of peers to recruit into StAMINA’s core team. She also connected with state officials and policy leaders in healthcare and education for support as thought partners.

Allison targeted corporations focused on adult mental health in her fundraising efforts. She highlighted the downstream impacts of unaddressed youth mental health challenges and connected that to billions of dollars in lost productivity. StAMINA raised more than $100,000 to fund the Act phase.

Act

StAMINA hosted a Youth Mental Health Ideathon that challenged teams to create new forms of mental health outreach and engagement. Three ideas are in production now: a podcast, adult-youth conversation cards and a mental health app.

Allison’s movement is accelerating. Other states want to establish StAMINA chapters of their own. Former US Congressman Patrick Kennedy is joining their lobbying efforts. Allison plans to continue this work in college and expand StAMINA’s reach nationwide.