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Strengthening College Students’ Mental Health Knowledge, Awareness, and Helping Behaviors: The Impact of Active Minds, a Peer Mental Health Organization

      Objective

      To examine the relationship between college students’ familiarity with and involvement in Active Minds, a student peer organization focused on increasing mental health awareness, decreasing stigma, and affecting mental health knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.

      Method

      Students (N = 1,129) across 12 California colleges completed three waves of a web-based survey during the 2016–2017 academic year to assess familiarity with and involvement in Active Minds and mental health attitudes, behaviors, and perceived knowledge. Fixed-effects models assessed relations between changes in organization familiarity and involvement and changes in mental health-related outcomes over time overall and stratified by students’ baseline engagement (ie, familiarity/involvement) with Active Minds.

      Results

      Overall, increased familiarity with Active Minds was associated with increases in perceived knowledge (0.40; p < .001) and decreases in stigma over time (−0.33; p < .001). Increased involvement was associated with increases in perceived knowledge (0.40; p < .001) and a range of helping behaviors. Associations differed by students’ baseline engagement with Active Minds. For students with low engagement, increased familiarity with Active Minds was associated with decreased stigma and improved perceived knowledge. For students with moderate baseline engagement, increasing involvement with Active Minds was associated with increases in helping behaviors (eg, providing emotional support, connecting others to services) over time.

      Conclusion

      Student peer organizations’ activities can improve college student mental health attitudes and perceived knowledge and significantly increase helping behaviors. Such organizations can complement more traditional programs and play an important role in improving the campus climate with respect to mental health.

      Key words

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