The College Toolbox Project (CTP) is the first effort of its kind to develop a systematic program aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness.
Based on the growing recognition of the widespread prevalence of mental illness in society, and the newly acknowledged need for improved mental health services among the college-aged population, the CTP couples a long-standing interest in the causes and consequences of mental illness and a strong social scientific research base, with the energy, talent, and open orientation of the Millennial generation.
Initiated by the powerful vision and support of Glenn Close and her national anti-stigma campaign, Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M), the CTP is a joint endeavor with Indiana University. Additional sponsors and participants include The College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Informatics and Computing, and the School of Public Health, all of which will provide participating faculty researchers. Student leaders include, but are not limited to, the Indiana Memorial Union Board, Indiana University Student Association (IUSA) and Culture of Care.
The CTP is a 4-year intervention and assessment research project whose goal is to develop, pilot-test and evaluate the efficacy of anti-stigma program materials. This program will subsequently be packaged as The College Toolbox and distributed for use by BC2M, free of charge, to colleges and universities.
The Fundamental Philosophy
The CTP builds on BC2M’s central focus on inclusion and openness combined with central findings from scientific research that interpersonal “contact” with individuals with mental health issues offers one of the most promising avenues to lower levels of prejudice and discrimination associated with mental illness. However, the CTP aligns this conventional focus with contemporary notions of “connectedness” in network science, a pioneering and emerging academic strength of Indiana University. While recognizing that awareness of mental illness and education about its causes and consequences are basic components in changing population stigma levels, research has recently documented higher levels of information among cohorts of college-aged individuals, and equally important, that education per se, does not necessarily produce the strong, expected link to lower levels of stigma. Network science supports the shift from educational efforts to inclusion efforts. Further, the CTP is “by students, for students”, that is, while the integrated team of IU researchers, BC2M leadership, and IU administrators will provide the logistical foundation to guide and carry out the proposed anti-stigma project, it will be IU students that will provide the central creative force. Indeed, students have been involved in the CTP from the beginning, providing the ownership and population understanding that is critical to successfully addressing stigma reduction among the Millennial generation.
The CTP will focus on first year undergraduate students (from here on referred to as “freshman”), following this cohort across four years at IU. We realize that some students do not finish in four years; nevertheless, this should capture the majority of entering students, and will encompass a reasonable time frame for producing and assessing attitudinal change.
The two essential parts of the CTP pilot are 1) the development and testing of a series of specific interventions, and 2) the larger evaluation of change in prejudicial attitudes and exclusionary behaviors toward persons with mental health problems. The CTP will begin with the entering cohort of students in fall 2015. Given the time frame for planning, and the importance of freshman acclimating to a new environment, new students will not be involved in the initial creative design of the CTP effort. The integrated research/intervention team of students, faculty and administrators at IU have already begun the first semester efforts. Starting in the second semester (spring 2016), and from that point on, all students at IUB will have the opportunity not only to participate in the events and activities, but also will be able to shape the focus of the larger campaign in years 2 through 4 (i.e., fall 2016 – spring 2019). The proposed research design will be rigorous. A baseline survey of all of the approximately 7,500 entering students will be fielded during the summer of 2015, with more in-depth interviews to be conducted with a scientifically selected, 2,500 respondent, panel sample. This longitudinal study design will follow and re-interview students at least twice a year for each of the four years. In addition, across the program interval, social media data will be captured and analyzed on relevant mental health issues. Participation in the CTP surveys and activities is voluntary with incentives/compensation for participation being designed by current CTP students. At all events, participation and perceived utility will be tracked and assessed.
Planning for the CTP has been underway since November 2013, at which time Glenn Close and Pamela Harrington, the Executive Director of BC2M, visited IUB in conjunction with the College of Arts and Science’s Themester — Connectedness: Networks in a Complex World. This campus visit was then followed by a planning meeting of national and international CTP partners at the Banbury Center of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York in April 2014. Subsequent meetings have been held since with a wide variety of student groups, faculty researchers, and IU administrative officers. Activities will begin with the fielding of the baseline survey during New Student Orientations, Welcome Week and continuing throughout the month of September 2016.
Current activity/intervention plans are being formulated for each upcoming semester.