Print this page

Student Mental Health Advocate Awards

Awardees Rachel Dorsey (L) and Ryan Dougherty (R), with Will
Heininger, a 2011 U-M graduate, four-time Academic All-Big Ten award winner, and Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, who presented the awards.

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.

2014 Award Winners

Rachel Dorsey

Senior, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
BFA in Painting

Rachel has been a cornerstone in developing student mental health advocacy at SAIC. She is an outspoken advocate for mental health resources for students and is mindful about creating safe places for students who experience mental illness within the community. She has a keen ability to interweave the personal and the political and to shape her convictions into actions.

In 2011, she helped initiate a new Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) group at SAIC, using a DBSA peer-run support group model that provides self-help (comfort and direction) through facilitated meetings. This group curated an art show in the residence halls titled “I Got Up,” which highlighted artwork focused on student mental health struggles and resilience. In 2012, Rachel developed a student support group inclusive of the full spectrum of mental health needs in the SAIC community, with the vision to create a stigma-free environment for students.

In addition to her work in peer-delivered support, Rachel was chosen to be President of SAIC’s Active Minds chapter. This past year, she has been an influential student leader and, along with her peers, has successfully initiated efforts that aimed to eradicate stigma associated with mental illnesses in SAIC, including using the “Go Fund Me” online tool to raise funds from families and friends for students to attend the National Active Minds Conference.

Rachel also worked as a student consultant with Waypoint Health Innovations, a company contracted by SAIC to develop web-based programs to address behavioral health problems. She beta-tested existing programs, reviewed and edited new video materials, and helped to assemble a focus group as a forum for student voices. Rachel has completed a 12-hour Mental Health First Aid Training course and is now an active member of the SAIC Wellness Center Student Support Network, a new effort launched to encourage natural peer support at SAIC and made possible by SAIC’s GLS Campus Suicide Prevention Grant. In this network, Rachel has built strong connections with other influential student leaders to build a vibrant community that thrives on mutual support, enthusiastic collaboration, and the shared vision of a stigma-free world.

It is our distinct privilege to recognize her contributions with this nomination.

Nominated by:

Joseph Behen, Executive Director, Counseling, Health and Disability Services

And April Knighton, Mental Health Promotion and Care Specialist. Counseling, Health and Disability Services, School of the Art Institute of Chicago


Ryan Dougherty

Senior, University of Michigan
B.S. in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience

Ryan Dougherty has demonstrated a lifelong and passionate commitment to changing the landscape of mental health in our society through his personal interactions in daily life. Ryan lends unconditional compassion to anyone and everyone he comes into contact with, and proudly speaks up for those whose voices would not otherwise be heard.

Ryan’s advocacy in mental health began in co-founding the Allies of Disability Awareness organization on campus. This organization seeks to establish a visible disability community and increase access to education at the University of Michigan. Ryan assisted in organizing two community art shows, a monthly meeting on mental wellbeing and stigma, and presented on navigating employment with an invisible disability identity such as depression.

Ryan’s activism expanded when his peers elected him as Vice President of the Diversity Committee for the Inter-Cooperative Council (ICC). The ICC is a student-owned and run housing organization with over five hundred students. As a VP, Ryan developed curriculum and implemented the first educational initiative in the organization’s 75-year history, focusing on social justice and inclusivity, conflict resolution, and mental health and stigma.

Thanks to Ryan, ICC members have now participated in multiple day-long workshops focusing on the negative impact of mental health stigma on the ICC communities, and emphasizing that mental wellbeing is a collective responsibility which can be achieved through ongoing education and open conversations. These workshops empowered hundreds of students with stronger skills in starting conversations regarding depression and anxiety, and in navigating necessary mental health resources for themselves, friends, or loved ones.

Ryan’s activism goes hand-in-hand with his research, which includes community-based participatory action research in disability studies with Dr. Adena Rottenstein, and clinical research in Dr. Patricia Deldin’s Mood and Schizophrenia Laboratory, and in the College of Pharmacy.

Ultimately, Ryan aims to establish a comprehensive mental health research and resource center that acknowledges the importance of impacting the culture surrounding mental illnesses to create a healthier society.

Thank you for considering Ryan Dougherty for this important award. I cannot emphasize enough how strongly I feel he deserves to be recognized for his commitment to changing the landscape of mental health on our campus, and in our society.

Nominated by:
Sarah Wizinsky, President, Michigan House Co-op