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News & Press: Mental Health Disorders

Nationwide essay contest challenges high schoolers to be frank about mental health

Tuesday, April 30, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rebecca Roberts
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Multiple winners to be awarded by NIH and the Calvin J. Li Memorial Foundation.

Students ages 16 to 18 years old are invited to participate in the “Speaking Up About Mental Health!” essay contest to explore ways to address the stigma and social barriers that adolescents from racial and ethnic minority populations may face when seeking mental health treatment.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youths aged 15 to 24, yet only about half of young adults with a mental disorder receive treatment. In an effort to address this disparity and further conversations about mental health among high schoolers, the National Institutes of Health invites students ages 16 to 18 years old to participate in the “Speaking Up About Mental Health!” essay contest. Essays should explore ways to address the stigma and social barriers that adolescents from racial and ethnic minority populations may face when seeking mental health treatment. The contest is led by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in collaboration with the Calvin J. Li Memorial Foundation(link is external), and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). NIMH and NIMHD are components of NIH.

“Teens have important stories to tell about their experiences with mental health treatment, and we hope this contest will give them an opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas. It’s clear we need to work with them to better understand mental health stigma and the barriers they may face when seeking mental health treatment,” said Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIMH.

Ideas for essay topics could include:

  • Creative ways to start a conversation about mental health or related stigma
  • Innovative approaches to remove, reduce, or lower barriers to mental health treatment
  • Suggested changes in school policies or practices that could help reduce stigma
  • Other areas of concern to individuals and their communities with respect to mental health


This contest was started as part of the Healthy Mind Initiative, which aims to increase mental health awareness and promote suicide prevention in Asian American and Pacific Islander youth, although the contest is open to all high school youths nationwide. The goal of the initiative is to reach a population that may view mental health care negatively, or may not consider it at all, due to stigma, lack of awareness and education, or differences in cultural conceptualization of mental health.

“Every year millions of Americans struggle with mental illness, which does not discriminate,” said Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., director of NIMHD. “Severe mental Illness occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and access to treatment is a special challenge for disadvantaged populations.”

Contest rules and prize information:

There is no application fee to participate, and entries should be submitted by May 31, 2019 on Challenge.gov. Winners will be announced on Sept. 30, 2019. The contest is open to all current U.S. or U.S. territory high school students ages 16 to 18 at the time of submission. Some entrants may not be eligible to receive an NIH prize, but may be recognized as a finalist and eligible for a non-NIH cash prize from the Calvin J. Li Memorial Foundation. Prize winners and finalists will have their essays posted on the Healthy Mind Initiative website.

For more information on the rules of the contest and registration requirements see the contest webpage at www.challenge.gov or by contacting MHHighSchoolEssay@mail.nih.gov.