Features News

Mental Health Awareness Chapter Starts on Campus

Active Minds co-founder Adia Fadaei and PLNU Psi Chi board member Anne-Shirley Harris at the Psi Chi event where Active Minds offered resources. Photo courtesy of Katie Morris.

Adia Fadaei was 14 years old when she entered the mental health awareness field.

As a hotline listener and outreach presenter at Teen Line in Los Angles, she was given intensive psychoeducational training to provide middle school, high school and college students with presentations on youth mental health and suicide.

“I had the ability to have real conversation and interaction with individuals experiencing high-functioning to severe mental illness,” Fadaei said. “That experience was so antithetical to the mental health literacy we currently receive both in and outside of school, and I realize how important that was.”

This was the kickstart to Fadaei’s passion for mental health advocacy. Following her involvement with Teen Line, Fadaei has worked with mental health awareness organizations such as Bring Change to Mind (BC2M), The American Association of Suicidology, Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and Born This Way Foundation.

Now as a third-year psychology major at Point Loma Nazarene University, Fadaei is a mental health promotion intern through the university’s Wellness Center.

Alongside fellow student intern, Angie Medina, fourth-year applied health science major, and their intern supervisor, Kaitlin Sorgea, Wellness Center Health Promotion Specialist, Fadaei started the new mental health awareness chapter on PLNU’s campus, Active Minds, in February.

Active Minds is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting mental health among young adults through peer-to-peer dialogue and interaction. There are more than 600 Active Minds chapters located at high schools and colleges nationwide, including San Diego State University, University of California San Diego, University of San Diego and all the San Diego community colleges.

Fadaei has known about Active Minds since 2018, yet first directly came across it at the first-ever Mental Health Youth Action Forum, which was held at the White House in May 2022. The forum was ideated by MTV Social Impact and the Biden-Harris Administration to create space for youth who worked in mental health to share their work and advocate for mental health. 

Twelve nonprofits were invited to the forum; BC2M —which Fadaei was working with at the time — was one of them. Fadaei valued Active Minds’ similar model to BC2M and fell in love with the organization.

While she was at the forum, Fadaei had recently transferred from Azusa Pacific University to PLNU. Once she felt more integrated with the PLNU community and started interning at the Wellness Center, both she and Medina felt that it was the right time to start implementing Active Minds on the Christian campus.

“In the mental health promotions internship, we would get a gauge of how students felt about the mental health resources offered in the Wellness Center and hear the needs that students felt were not being heard. That made us realize that we needed something that was more committed to the students rather than just having resources that were accessible,” Medina said.

According to a 2013 survey conducted by Nashville-based Lifeway Research, “a third of Americans – and nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians – believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness.” Via the survey, 65% of family members in a household of someone with acute mental illness also believe local churches should do more in talking about mental illness openly so that the topic is not as taboo.

“Everywhere you go has a public stigma, individual stigma, professional stigma and cultural stigma. When you add the layer of religious stigma, it’s just so problematic,” Fadaei said.

To promote their mission, the Active Minds council — Sorgea, Fadaei, and Medina — met with a member of PLNU’s Chapel to discuss Active Minds’ mission and its prevalence on campus.

“The purpose and mission of Active Minds is to engender a space of safety for the student by optimizing powers of empathy and human connection,” Fadaei said. “We aim to support the education of mental health amongst the student body by effectively and sensitively discussing topics around mental health and wellness, reducing stigma, establishing and engaging community events, collaborating with clubs and pointing students toward mental health resources and organizations.”

Fadaei said that the chapter is not in replacement for mental health services and is not a peer support model.

“We are student-led, but we are professionally backed and this entire model is research-informed from a national level with the scientific advisory board of Active Minds,” Fadaei said.

With mental health support being on such a continuum of proactive support —public health involvement, crisis prevention, intervention, crisis support and postvention— Fadaei said that Active Minds’ work encapsulates proactive behaviors.

Since February, the PLNU mental health awareness chapter has done an event on mental health languaging, has connected students with getting certified mental health first aid training in the community for free, got students involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Walk San Diego, worked with the Point Loma Health Committee to get student ID cards up-to-date with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number and met with the San Diego Suicide Prevention Council

“We are still very much in baby mode, but what is so cool is that we have access to a national resource,” Fadaei said. “This is a very established organization that does really incredible work. Yes, it’s great to be a part of a mental health club, but when you have the anchor, the sustainability and the longevity of this model, it’s very long-term in terms of impact.”

On Feb. 16, PLNU’s Active Minds chapter held a mental health languaging event, where eight student attendees discussed their personal experiences with mental health stigma and how it has been talked about in their social circles. Sorgea (‘21), who is also a PLNU alum, was present at the meeting, encouraging students to provide feedback on the mental health sector of PLNU.

“Every student that was present was very thoughtful about how they perceived the information but also related to one another,” Sorgea said. “As an alumni and current staff member, I told them that I am proud of how they are showing up for themselves and this cause. That is not something that I did as a student, and now as a staff member, being so involved in this stuff, I wish I would have done this as a student.”

The event was especially impactful for one attendee: a PLNU psychology student, who requested anonymity due to sharing their mental health experience.

Last year, months before attempting to take their own life, the student sought mental health support from a counselor at the university’s Wellness Counseling Center, a sector of PLNU’s Wellness Center.

“I did have conversations with my PLNU counselor, saying, ‘I just have this thought that life would be so much easier if I just killed myself,’ to which she immediately responded, ‘[student’s name], that is a lie from the pit of hell,” the student said via an email interview.

Troubled by this response, the student went to meet with a psychology faculty member several weeks after meeting with the PLNU counselor. The faculty member then revealed that the ‘counselor’ actually never earned a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) degree or a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor degree, and rather served as a chaplain. The chaplain no longer works for the university.

With these past experiences in mind, and with a specific interest in the psychology nonprofit sector, the student decided to attend the mental health languaging event.

“I wanted to get involved with a ‘one thing at a time’ mindset, and believed Active Minds would be an adequate way to do that … I enjoy conversations about mental health, connecting with different people, getting to know their stories, insight and input,” the student said.

Coming from an ex-Catholic, ex-agnostic and now Christian background, the student said that both the event and their psychology classes have helped them identify their own biases toward discussions on mental health, as well as the challenges around having mental health conversations in the Church.

“I will acknowledge (with my own bias and personal experience) that I’ve witnessed mental health stigma in this Christian campus through the conversations I’ve had and my experience in PLNU’s Counseling Center in my freshmen and sophomore year,” the student said. “I personally have had negative and positive experiences in my Catholic upbringing such as the strict black/white, all/nothing, either/or thinking … as well as the positive growth that came out of seeing God and Jesus as a friend and numerous Catholic prayers as a starting point for me to connect with Him.”

Third-year psychology major Zach Sawley, who learned about the chapter in his Clinical and Community Interventions course, was also in attendance. Sawley said that there is an elevated importance on having Active Minds at PLNU, considering it is a Christian campus.

“While religiosity as a whole can be rather beneficial for mental health, there are aspects that are rather detrimental and objectively wrong. One such issue is linking intrusive thoughts to that of demonic work, which has rather profoundly harmful consequences for someone struggling,” Sawley said.

The student who requested anonymity said that mental health awareness is a true facet of the holistic health of individuals.

“I think that groups such as Active Minds are very valuable in trying to accomplish those goals one step at a time by having those serious conversations, holding people and institutions accountable, partnering with credible organizations and acknowledging research-based practices,” the student said.

Sorgea said that two LMFTs and three Associate Marriage and Family Therapists currently work in the Wellness Counseling Center, all of whom see students depending on their mental health needs. 

“Who they see is delegated depending on where the student is at. If it is a more volatile situation and a higher-risk individual, they are going to see the licensed therapist but we do not have chaplains in the counseling office,” Sorgea said.

On Feb. 27, PLNU’s Active Minds chapter provided mental health resources at a PLNU Psi Chi Honor Society event.

Fadaei, who is Middle Eastern, also collaborated with PLNU’s Middle Eastern Association to host an event on Middle Eastern mental health and cultural stigma on April 4. 

“From a cultural perspective, being from a community that is so collectivistic, I am very about doing work that is unifying, accessible and has a tangible impact,” Fadaei said.

The national chapter is also partnered with Murad Skincare, which has given grants and materials to select chapters —PLNU being one of them— to host a Stress Less Week during the week before finals. 

Fadaei and Medina are also part of a cohort of Active Minds students who are interested in public policy. They are currently working with the Director of Policy for Active Minds to meet with legislators and discuss certain bills for student mental health. 

“I realized what mental health education and support, eradication of stigma and the creation of these spaces of safety can really do, and that’s to increase help-seeking, get people connected to resources and help people find out how they can support themselves,” Fadaei said. “It brings a depth of meaning to my life that is really unparalleled.”

For those who want to learn more about Active Minds:

For students who are interested in learning more about the mental health resources that PLNU offers: