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Mental Health Coalition brings together leaders, resources on campus

Students traverse the university grounds in different styles on Monday, March 6, 2023.

After the UNC Mental Health Coalition was founded in 2019 and disbanded in 2021 due to leadership changes during the pandemic, Harini Somanchi and Neha Saggi brought the group back to life this January. The pair are both juniors and co-directors of the department of student wellness and safety in the Undergraduate Executive Branch.

The Mental Health Coalition is structured to bring together student leader representatives from a variety of identity-based and mental health-focused organizations on campus. Somanchi said she and Saggi used a list of organizations previously involved from the initial founders of the coalition and collaborated with UNC Student Wellness to find interested groups.

“Our goal is to increase the visibility and awareness of mental health resources on campus and also streamline mental health efforts that a lot of different student groups are doing on campus,” Somanchi said.

The coalition now has around 15 organizations represented, including leaders from the Carolina Covenant Student Advisory Council, the National Alliance on Mental Illness On Campus and the Minority Student Caucus.

“This group is really just a coordinating collaborative body of people with a vested interest in mental health on campus trying to streamline their efforts,” Saggi said.

Somanchi said the coalition had its first meeting as a new group in January, where representatives heard from UNC's Counseling and Psychological Services Director Avery Cook on myths surrounding CAPS and mental health resources at UNC.

Emily Hernandez, a UNC junior and resilience outreach intern for Healthy Heels, said there was a lot of positive feedback from coalition members after the meeting.

Somanchi said the representatives are planning a social media campaign to share the information learned — including that CAPS provides brief therapy appointments and that students can receive walk-in care.

“This was really helpful, I thought, because now they can communicate that kind of information to organizations and hopefully spread the word,” Somanchi said.

Hernandez said the Mental Health Coalition is in the process of revising its application to become a registered student organization. The application was initially not approved by the Carolina Union because it did not make a clear distinction between the coalition and other mental health organizations on campus.

The coalition's leaders plans to host an information fair for the organizations involved, similar to SmallFest, which Somanchi said will allow for increased visibility and awareness of resources on campus. 

“We really wanted to prioritize diversity in the Mental Health Coalition because by having an actually representative group of representatives, we’re able to learn about different issues on campus related to mental health that we might not have known about,” Somanchi said.

She said that the coalition will require all members to attend Mental Health First Aid training. The UNC School of Social Work offers an eight-hour training to recognize and assist individuals with symptoms of mental health challenges or mental health crises.

Hernandez said one of the main goals for next school year is to promote sustainability of the coalition. Somanchi said the coalition will be electing leadership to ensure it is an independent organization and is not solely reliant on student government involvement.

“It’s a tricky balance between how much you can expect from student leaders, knowing that they are already leading their own student organization,” Hernandez said.

In order to allow the representatives to streamline efforts, Saggi said they have a designated portion of meetings for representatives to discuss initiatives they are working on to allow them to seek support and collaboration.

“I think we can always learn a lot from one another,” Hernandez said.

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