Sociology professor Dr. Syeda Jesmin awarded $303,000 grant to support mental health initiatives

University of North Texas at Dallas Associate Professor of Sociology Dr. Syeda Jesmin has been awarded a three-year, $303,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The funding will support a comprehensive public health approach to improve mental health at UNT Dallas and surrounding communities.

“Our goal is to increase awareness of UNT Dallas students, their families, faculty and staff members about suicide, depression, serious mental illness and/or substance use disorders that can lead to school failure; promote help-seeking behavior and reduce negative public attitudes; and improve the identification and treatment of at-risk students so they can successfully complete their studies,” said Dr. Jesmin, the principal investigator of this project.

Students from Dr. Jesmin’s Sociology of Mental Health and Illness course named the project “STRONG” (Students and Teachers Reaching Out and Never Giving up).

Studies show that anxiety is the most predominant and increasing concern followed by depression, relationship concerns, suicidal ideation, self-injury and alcohol abuse among the college students who seek counseling. Data from the surrounding communities demonstrate elevated risks for suicidal behavior among UNT Dallas students compared with college students nationally.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health and needs to be a priority in our community,” UNT Dallas President Bob Mong said. “It is important we get beyond stigmas that may have existed in the past as it relates to mental health issues so those that need help can be treated.”

The project will implement evidence-based outreach strategies to students and community members who may be vulnerable to suicidal ideation or mental health problems. It will also develop services for students who need help, and encourage students to seek help when it is needed.

“Project STRONG will allow us to implement activities to raise awareness, strengthen UNT Dallas’ capacity and off-campus outreach and network,” Dr. Jesmin said. “Our activities are specifically designed to reach out to students and their families who are typically underserved by mental health services, and empower them with knowledge so that a cultural change occurs in the campus as well as in the surrounding communities.”

Dr. Jesmin and her team has reached out to a number of campus and community groups to ask them to commit to working with the project. The Project team includes Shanda Riley, Dr. Constance Lacy, Dr. Iftekhar Amin, and Dr. Joy Patton.