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Student Mental Health Advocate Awards

Kathy Cronkite, 2011 DoCC conference keynote speaker, with Student Mental Health Advocate Award winners Mara Minasian and Kristina Saffran and Depression Center Executive Director John Greden.

To recognize outstanding student leadership in the area of campus mental health, the University of Michigan initiated the Student Mental Health Advocate Award in 2007. The undergraduate and graduate students who have been nominated from across the country have all made a significant impact in their campus communities by raising awareness of mental health issues, advocating for mental health services on campus, and helping to reduce the stigma of depressive illnesses.

Originally, students from the University of Michigan were not eligible to receive the award, in order to avoid any possible appearance of conflict of interest on the part of the conference planning committee members who select the award recipient. However, beginning in 2009 the committee decided to offer two categories for this award – one for students from the University of Michigan, and one for students from other schools – allowing us to honor student advocacy around the country as well as on our own campus.

2011 Award Winners

Mara Minasian
Junior, University of Michigan
Major: Psychology

Mara Minasian has greatly impressed me with her sincere dedication to cultivating mental health awareness at the University of Michigan. Most notably, she is leading an initiative to create a student support group on campus through the U-M Chapter of “To Write Love on Her Arms.” Mara has received the support of several mental health professionals in the community who are eager to facilitate the SHARE Group (Students for Hope, Ambition, Recovery, and Encouragement). Mara is currently advocating for the SHARE Group as a resource that will provide a safe environment for students to seek out support for personal or interpersonal concerns of any nature.

Mara is also an active member of the Counseling and Psychological Services Student Advisory Board, collaborating with students and faculty to encourage mental health awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health services. She is also the Student Chair of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution Advisory Board, reaching out to students to promote peace and justice on campus.

Additionally, Mara spent eight months as a research assistant for Dr. Cheryl King in the U-M Depression Center, doing research on the development of screening materials and interventions for adolescents at risk for suicide. She is currently a lab manager within the Institute for Social Research’s Aggression Research Program, where she is doing research to facilitate earlier recognition of substance use disorders. She was inspired to pursue this avenue of research after volunteering at Maplegrove Behavioral Center, a substance abuse treatment facility where she actively engaged in support groups for families and facilitated a camp for adolescents.

Mara clearly embodies the characteristics of a student mental health advocate, with her passion for mental health awareness and outreach continuing to foster a healthier campus community. Mara is a most deserving candidate for this award, and I support her with my highest recommendation.

Nominated by: Ryan H. Bremner, Dr. des., Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan


Kristina Saffran
Freshman, Vanderbilt University
Major: Psychology

Kristina Saffran is a freshman studying Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Kristina serves both as the
Freshman Liaison and the Events Co-Chair on her Active Minds chapter’s executive board, implementing
campus-wide events such as National Day Without Stigma, “Fat-Talk-Free-Week”, and “Operation Beautiful Day” to address both stigma reduction and awareness about mental health in a larger societal context. Kristina is also spearheading a new initiative to start a Student Speaker Panel Series on Mental Illness for the further education of her campus community in regards to mental illnesses such as depression.

Much more significant than her activity with her Active Minds chapter is, however, the fact that in 2008, as a teenager who had just recovered from a serious eating disorder, Kristina founded Project HEAL: Help to Eat, Accept, and Live ( Project HEAL is a non-profit organization that raises money for individuals with eating disorders who are not able to afford the often prohibitive cost of treatment and works to diminish the societal obsession with body image. Kristina and her two co-founders regularly speak at high schools, hospitals, and on panels, sharing their stories to educate their peers on mental health and bring hope of recovery.

Kristina is an articulate, highly driven, very young mental health advocate whose work with Project HEAL is noteworthy for its reach, the courage of its message, and the fact that surviving a significant mental health disorder led to such concrete and impressive advocacy. To date, Kristina and Project HEAL have raised $130,000, sending five applicants to treatment that they were unable to previously afford. Few adults, let alone individuals as young as Kristina, can boast such accomplishments – and particularly in the challenging sector of raising funds for mental health.

As she grows older, I am certain that Kristina will go on to further change society and give many more young people the opportunity for treatment. However, I am nominating her for the Student Mental Health Advocate Award now, because I firmly believe that her efforts to date deserve note and praise.

Nominated by: Sonya Weisburd, MSW, Chapter Coordinator, Active Minds