In March 2010, with the nudge of a close college friend, my family and I began raising money through an annual run we created in Josh’s memory. We didn’t yet have a firm plan of how we would use the donations–but we knew we wanted to reach teens directly with mental health resources and support. In August 2011, I moved back to the DC-area to focus on my own healing and grief work, and to see if I could put my “business skills” to use with the money we had raised in Josh’s honor.
When my family and I started the Josh Anderson Foundation (what is now Our Minds Matter), our first step was to get a “lay of the land” when it came to mental health support for teenagers in Fairfax, VA, where my siblings and I had grown up together. We held informal focus groups at my parents’ house that fall–with both current and recently graduated high school students–who shared that they didn’t know who to turn to if they needed help with their mental health. In their words, school counselors were there for academic support. Many of the students we talked to either didn’t know if their school had a school psychologist or social worker, or weren’t sure they would visit them because they feared the backlash of admitting that something didn’t feel right.
Fast forward a few years to when the Josh Anderson Foundation started supporting a number of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) with what we called “a la carte” mental health initiatives–from week-long mental health awareness campaigns, to mental health speakers sharing their personal stories at student assemblies. School staff and students were immediately receptive, as they were tired of not having a space to discuss mental health challenges, which were increasingly burdening many of them. But staff and students alike wanted more–not just one day or one week out of the year dedicated to mental health awareness. They needed the beat of a drum to stay focused on mental health throughout the entire school year.
That’s when we created Our Minds Matter: an accessible and structured way for students to continue conversations around mental health through student-led clubs that hold weekly or bi-weekly meetings, activities and events all centered around important mental health topics like stigma reduction, healthy habits, and coping skills. Today, Our Minds Matter clubs are in over 130 schools nationwide! It’s amazing to see so many passionate and dedicated teenage students prioritizing their mental health and the mental health of their school community through their OMM clubs. We at Our Minds Matter built the platform and structure–but it’s the students who are making the impact and difference every day within their school communities.
– Lauren Anderson