For the past three years, Martez Files, a professor of African American studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has been creating mental health kits for struggling students. What started as an effort to give back to the school district he grew up in, Birmingham City Schools, has grown into a large-scale operation involving student volunteers committed to distributing the kits on campus and in public schools across the country. State.
Files came up with the idea after going through her own mental health crisis early in her PhD. program in 2017. A woman in the community offered her crystals, incense and tea to help relieve her anxiety and stress. Then Files, a member of the Alabama Mental Illness Protection and Advocacy Advisory Board, began researching how different items such as essential oils and stress balls could benefit people with mental illnesses. mental health needs.
“I realized that these articles are actually basic tools that can really help people and make a difference,” Files said. “And I woke up one day and said, ‘Oh, I want to do this for Birmingham City Schools’, and it got big in my community and people wanted to support it financially. The first initiative was very successful.
In 2019, it provided around 400 mental health kits to students in Birmingham City Schools. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Files said, he saw an even greater need to help students struggling with depression, anxiety and isolation. Last year, he partnered with the UAB School of Education’s GEAR UP Alabama program, which is designed to help local students graduate from high school, enroll in, and succeed in college. university. Through this partnership, he delivered more than 1,000 mental health kits to 42 rural schools in Alabama.
“I had to think about what it means for someone to go through a crisis… to have something in them that they can touch, feel, see, feel, hear, that will help them ground and relate. center and kind of be there for him. in times of crisis,” Files said. “And the truth is, I really wanted the students most affected by systems of oppression and the most marginalized in our society to feel like someone was thinking of them.”
The contents of the kits vary depending on what people donate, Files said. Most include handwritten note cards with messages such as “You can do this” and “You can be anything you put your mind to.” The kits also include a list of national and local mental health resources, as well as a combination of teas, honey, essential oils, stress balls, fidget spinners, journals, pens and doodles. ‘plush animals.
This year, Files said he also plans to deliver kits to each of the state’s 12 juvenile detention centers.
Students on the UAB campus also distributed mental health kits. The campus chapter of Active Minds, a national mental health organization, created a subscription service for mental health kits last year. For $15 a month or $30 for the entire semester, students receive a monthly mental health kit focused on a different theme, said Ritika Samant, a junior neuroscience student and president of UAB’s Active Minds Chapter. The February one, for example, which coincided with National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, featured a resource pack, motivational stickers and a skipping rope. October focused on using art to support mental health and included coloring books and mini easels.
Samant said such items give students an opportunity to slow down and calm down.
“I think the little pleasures in life have had the biggest impact,” Samant said. “So when it comes to fluffy socks or, like, a self-care kit, it’s an opportunity for students to have those things and say, ‘I don’t have to study for a test tomorrow, let me pass this ‘thing i feel’ and get out the coloring book… Something as small as that can sometimes calm someone down a lot.
Active Minds program manager Laura Horne said that because many students don’t know where to seek help for mental health issues, the kits can help break down barriers to accessing professional care. Active Minds specializes in creating toolkits for students and institutions to provide more mental health care on campus.
“Giving students enough guidance to feel equipped and empowered, but also the freedom to do this work on their own and meet the unique needs of their campuses, is critical,” Horne said.
The Stress Less Week toolkit, for example, guides students to take time to care for themselves and prioritize their own well-being through creating art, meditating, reading , doing yoga and more.
“It’s important to be proactive about our well-being so that we can prevent distress when possible,” Horne said. “However, sometimes self-care is not enough and we need more support. This is where a mental health professional can help.
While the kits can alleviate stress and prevent seizures, she said, institutions still need to ensure there are enough mental health services available on campus.
For some students, opening a mental health kit could be the first step in addressing their psychological needs, Samant said.
“If they don’t feel comfortable doing anything other than getting a sanity kit, just having some kind of comfort way for them, I think, is pretty impactful,” said said Samant. “And it’s not perfect. I’d love to tell all those students to go talk to someone, but that’s another step they’ll eventually feel comfortable taking.
Mental health kits are also popular on other campuses. Northern Virginia Community College offers a virtual self-care kit and self-care booklet, with links to printable coloring books, yoga exercises, and information about various campus resources. Boston University offers different kits, including one promoting a good night’s sleep, which provides students with a sleep mask, earplugs and tea, and another, which is a stress ball kit. anti-stress, crayons and Play-Doh.
While UAB students could receive Files’ mental health kits if there were more of them, he said most of them preferred to join him in creating and delivering the kits for young students. across the state, which can be therapeutic in itself. College students have been especially helpful in donating articles and writing notes, he said.
“If you can light an incense or a candle, rub in essential oils, squeeze a stress ball, hug a teddy bear, read a handwritten card from someone, and it gives you some respite, then why not not give more students this opportunity?” The files said.
The university’s counseling center also offers mental health resources for students, including anti-stress week at the end of each semester, when students can pick up coloring books and sleep kits and relax. write letters of gratitude. Angela Stowe, director of student counseling services at UAB, said last spring that students received mindfulness kits that included guided meditation, a bottle of water, healthy snacks and a journal.
Stowe said students appreciate having ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
“We want students to grow and learn the many ways their mental health can be taken care of,” Stowe said. “Having diverse and accessible activities and resources on campus in a variety of ways not only increases students’ ability to take care of their mental health, but encourages people to take care of each other.”
Kerec Hill, a high school student, calls Files his mentor. He’s currently working with the Professor to make the Mental Health Kits – something he got involved in because he knows firsthand what it’s like to struggle.
“I wanted to help because I also personally deal with anxiety, trauma and depression,” Hill said. “At first, I didn’t feel like I had any help.”
Hill, who is graduating this spring and has been accepted to a number of institutions including UAB, said wherever he decides to go to college, he will bring his mental health kit. He hopes to become a psychologist and give back to his community.
“I wanted to help, because it’s something I’ve been through,” he said. “So I thought it was a good idea to help and provide for others.”