Website launched Fall 2014 -

The College Toolbox Project

The College Toolbox Project (CTP) is 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 Goal. A four-year intervention and assessment research project is designed to develop a set of materials, pilot-test, and evaluate the efficacy of a proposed four year college-based anti-stigma program, The College Toolbox, that will be packaged and distributed for use by BC2M, free of charge, to colleges and universities, both nationally and world-wide.

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 result in 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 anti-stigma project, it will be IU students who 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 Target Population. The CTP will focus on first year undergraduate students (or “freshmen”), following this cohort across four years at IU. We realize that some students do not finish in four years; nevertheless, this should capture both the majority of entering students, and will encompass a reasonable time frame for producing and assessing attitudinal change.

The Approach. 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 began with the entering cohort of students in fall 2014. Starting in the second semester (spring 2015), and from that point on, all students at IUB will have the opportunity not only to participate in the events and activities, but also to shape the focus of the larger campaign in years 2 through 4 (i.e., fall 2015 – spring 2018).

The research design is rigorous. A baseline survey of all of the approximately 7,500 entering students is being fielded in fall 2014, with more in-depth interviews to be conducted with a scientifically selected group of 3,000 respondents (1,000 students who disclose diagnoses, 1,000 students who disclose mental health issues in their close family, and 1,000 students who disclose neither). 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. At all events, participation and perceived utility will be tracked and assessed. 

The Timeline. Planning for the CTP began in November 2013, when 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 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 began with the fielding of the baseline survey during Welcome Week and continue through the fall 2014 semester. Current activity/intervention plans are being formulated, and for the coursework and other events that need to be made now for the spring 2015 semester. 

Partners. In addition to BC2M, IUNI, and IUB, other advisors to the CTP include the Jed Foundation, which targets the reduction of suicidal behavior among college students; Time to Change, the U.K.’s national, multi-faceted campaign to reduce stigma; Active Minds, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness College Activist Group. Financial support is provided by BC2M, the IU Foundation and IUNI, with additional in-kind support for faculty participation from the IU schools listed above.