Allison Tu, 17, of Louisville, Ky., a senior at duPont Manual High School, launched a youth-driven initiative to raise awareness of student mental health issues and find ways to combat the alarmingly high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among young people in Kentucky. When she was in middle school, Allison didn’t have to look hard to see classmates struggling with sadness and stress, many who turned to substance abuse. “But none were getting help,” she said. “After two students I knew took their own lives, I’d had enough of watching my friends and peers suffer alone.”
Allison began posting ideas on her bedroom walls, and then consulted with a broad range of teachers, advisors and peers to devise a multiphase plan to improve mental health programs and services for young people in her state. Next, she formed an organization called “StAMINA” (Student Alliance for Mental Health Innovation and Action); sought support from student leaders throughout Kentucky as well as key adults in government, healthcare and education; and obtained more than $100,000 in grants to fund her new initiative. One of StAMINA’s first steps was to assemble rural and urban focus groups to gain student and parent perspectives on mental health needs. Allison’s group also has sponsored three youth summits to discuss pertinent issues and train youth advocates, and a “Youth Mental Health Ideathon” at which 50 students, parents and mental health professionals brainstormed program ideas. Three ideas from that event are now being developed: a podcast, adult-youth conversation cards and a mental health app. In addition, Allison has spoken about her organization at conferences around the country, and is now lobbying her state legislature on behalf of a bill that would increase the number of mental health professionals in schools.