Sun Devils educate peers and high school students about mental health

October 22, 2020

This October, Sun Devils are working to educate and support fellow students about mental health and depression awareness. Considering the isolation that comes with an ongoing pandemic, October being Depression Awareness Month, and Mental Health Awareness week landing Oct. 4–10, Sun Devils have been working harder than ever to ensure that students have the resources and support they need.

According to the 2019 National College Health Assessment, in the past 12 months 87.4% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do, 65.5% felt very lonely, 65.5% felt overwhelming anxiety and 45.2% felt so depressed it was difficult to function.

Three ASU students in front of a Devils 4 Devils table with a bubble machine

Devils 4 Devils members at the Tempe campus

With this in mind, ASU students work hard to connect their peers with resources and connections to emphasize, peer-to-peer, mental health and wellness and the role it plays in the lives of students. Two student-run organizations that are providing Sun Devils with free resources and events are Devils 4 Devils and Homebase Initiative, as well as Active Minds.

Devils 4 Devils is a student-led community for training, outreach and engagement that works to improve the social and emotional well-being of students. The program operates based on four pillars: outreach, membership, student impact and training. 

Through frequent, virtual  Community Circles, Devils 4 Devils members provide resources and a space for students to connect and build community. Devils 4 Devils members provide resources and an ear for students to connect. Emily Leon, a senior studying psychology with a minor in gender studies and family studies and committee chair for outreach in Devils 4 Devils, is a facilitator for the Community Circles.

Her role as a Community Circle facilitator involves hosting a weekly Zoom room, leading discussions with students, and helping them find resources. According to Leon, her Community Circle, Monday Night Games, is an opportunity for students take a break at the end of the day and connect and build community with other students. 

All Community Circles are free, peer-led and open to Sun Devils. Although student facilitators let conversation flow naturally, all circles are initially based on a specific focus. Devils 4 Devils Community Circle topics include 

  • Monday Night Games
  • Let’s Talk about Relationships with the Sun Devil Support Network
  • Devils 4 Devils Student Organization Meeting
  • Candid Connections
  • You Can Do Something

Community Circles meet at various times online Monday through Friday. Although the Community Circles are hosted frequently for students to have a safe place to connect, the student leaders note that they are not counselors. Community Circle facilitators are trained to help students find professional resources when needed and listen to what students have to say.

“Devils 4 Devils is all about empathy, so we’re not there to fix students’ problems, we’re really there to just listen and be a friend,” Leon said. 

Most circles begin with simple icebreakers to get the discussion flowing, then students talk about different topics that may pop up, said Leon. 

“From there we kinda just let the conversation go naturally; it's really about active listening,” Leon said.

According to Leon, she mostly helps people navigate through different issues. However not all conversations are serious; many are fun and light-hearted. 

“Our students who attend are amazing, and we have a lot of interesting conversations. It's really just a calm environment. Everyone is respectful. Students can expect a friendly face and a shoulder to lean on,” Leon said. 

Leon got involved with Devils 4 Devils this semester after seeing a presentation about the program.  

“Mental health and depression is something a lot of us are struggling with. And I think a lot of the time, especially with all the bad and negative things that are going on in the world, it’s really tough to just let ourselves breathe,” Leon said. 

The Home Base Initiative is offering similar programming for high school students. Sun Devils in the initiative team up with high school clubs and administrators to provide mental health resources and collaborative counseling to students at Red Mountain High School, Mountain Pointe High School and ASU Prep Digital.  

Sun Devils meet with students at each high school weekly during the student’s lunch period to discuss mental health awareness and the overall well-being of students at the school, do activities and find ways to provide more resources to students who may need it. Meetings are virtual this semester. 

Aarzoo Kumar, a senior studying biological sciences and economics and president of Home Base Initiative, works to ensure that the goals and mission of the Home Base Initiative are being met.

“Our initial mission and overall arching goal is to reduce teenage suicide, because that is one of the leading causes of death in teenagers,” Kumar said.

Sun Devils in Home Base Initiative create a curriculum for schools aimed at teaching high school students about mental health. 

“The reason it's called curriculum rather than just activities is everything we do is backed up by research,” Kumar said.

Although the curricula is based on research done by Sun Devils in the organization, Home Base Initiative also gives Sun Devils a chance to use their own experience with mental health to teach others, said Kumar.

Kumar said she saw how mental health affects people personally when a friend of hers attempted suicide. Currently, the friend is well, but the experience ultimately led to Kumar’s advocacy for mental health and her involvement with Home Base Initiative, which gives resources to parents and educators in addition to students. Kumar has been involved with Home Base Initiative for three years. 

“Aside from all the mental health pieces that they learn, I think that students learn to build social relationships. They learn to have conversations that are much more in-depth,” Kumar said.

Ultimately, she said what makes Home Base Initiative special is that it’s not just a weekly program but a community as well. 

“We are a very open and loving group of individuals, and we have become a home base for many community members to come to,” Kumar said.

ASU students interested in joining should be “genuinely passionate about educating others and to actually care about making a change,” Kumar said.

Learn more about joining Home Base Initiative and Devils 4 Devils.