A professor approached Ciara Kelly in tears at an event where 1,000 backpacks spanned Wilson Plaza to represent the more than 1,000 college students who are lost to suicide in the United States each year.
Kelly, a third-year communication student, said she realized in that moment the events she promotes could make a difference in the lives of students at UCLA. She is the marketing director of Active Minds, an organization that supports mental health awareness and education for students.
“The interaction (with the professor) made me realize just how impactful this can be,” Kelly said. “Knowing that a professor was behind us was really moving.”
Kelly received the National Society of Collegiate Scholars’ first-ever Mental Health Advocate Award on Sept 18.
The Mental Health Advocate Award is a $2,750 scholarship that recognizes a NSCS member who promotes mental health programs and advocacy efforts on their college campus, according to a NSCS press news release. NSCS is a nationwide honors organization of first- and second-year undergraduate students that awards 26 scholarships each year.
NSCS designated Active Minds as its primary philanthropic cause in 2017 as part of an effort to address stress and anxiety among high achievers, said Steven Mandurano, the director of marketing at NSCS.
“(NSCS) represents a subsect of college-age students and high achievers (who) are overactive. Often, high achievers in higher education tend to get stressed and deal with anxiety,” Mandurano said. “It seemed like an ideal match.”
NSCS and Active Minds created the Mental Health Advocate Award in more than a year ago to encourage leadership in the mental health field, Mandurano said.
Kelly joined Active Minds as a first-year student at UCLA and said the organization supported her while she coped with a suicide loss. She added it helped her understand her grieving particularly in her first few months of college and determine how best to cope with her loss.
“I learned that my best way to cope is to help others,” Kelly said. “I really appreciate being able to connect with someone on something they can’t normally get to talk about because of stigma.”
As a second-year student, Kelly became the marketing director of the UCLA chapter of Active Minds. In this role, Kelly has promoted Active Minds events online and posted resources for students such as links to suicide hotlines.
“I’ve created a community online where people can interact on social media in a way that is beneficial,” Kelly said. “It’s a way to cope with stress and anxiety.”
Active Minds is working to educate cultural groups often left out of mental health discussions about the resources available to them, Kelly said. Active Minds at UCLA has teamed up with the Black Student Union, the LGBTQ Center, UndocuBruins and other organizations to host events that focus on the specific issues that each group faces.
When Active Minds held an event with the LGBTQ Center, for instance, Kelly said speakers at the event talked about depression and anxiety because these issues affect many members of the LGBTQ community.
Kelly said she has noticed many communities face similar struggles because discussions of mental health awareness are not as prevalent.
“Something we knew, but something that is so impactful, is that mental health is not discussed in a lot of cultures,” Kelly said. “Everyone deals with (mental health) and it’s not discussed.”
Alisha Clark, a director of Active Minds at UCLA and a fourth-year physiological science student, said Kelly is a dedicated member of Active Minds because she is passionate about suicide prevention.
“(Kelly) does a lot of recruitment and does a lot to promote activities. She puts in way more than what is expected of her,” Clark said. “She’s one of our most valued directors.”
When Kelly was awarded the Mental Health Advocate Award, Clark said Kelly didn’t tell her, and Clark found out by seeing it on the Active Minds website.
“I wasn’t very surprised that she had won, but (Kelly) was very modest about it,” Clark said. “She didn’t tell anyone.”
Kelly said she values the awareness Active Minds brings to UCLA students even if they are not a part of the organization or do not normally attend Active Minds events.
“Being able to inspire and educate people in mental illness in the right ways and seeing that put into action and seeing the conversation being started with people outside of the club is really impactful,” Kelly said.