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One of two finalists for the Student Voice of Mental Health Award (SVMHA), Gerardo De La Torre is a student at Diablo Valley College majoring in computer engineering. He drives mental health initiatives and advocates for mental health on his campus through a variety of leadership roles, including his school’s first-ever wellness ambassador and executive/board member for the student government. Through these roles, he’s created a social media presence for his school’s wellness counseling department, led the development of a mindfulness community on campus through the Wisdom Labs platform, and perhaps most significantly, helped establish free, 24/7 telemental health services for students at his school, a program known as CA Students Care (provided in partnership with TimelyMD).
We sat down with Gerardo recently to learn more about him and his work in mental health.
Q: Congratulations on being selected as a finalist for the Student Voice of Mental Health Award! What inspired you to become an advocate for mental health on your campus?
A: I have a lot of passion for this subject, and wanted to leverage that passion to maximize my ability to spread awareness, increase access to resources, and to empower not just students, but everyone in my college community to strengthen their minds through resilience. Your mind needs daily care in the same way that your teeth require daily brushing; everyone is responsible for their own smile, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help each other.
Q: What has been the greatest challenge with your campus advocacy work and with working in the mental health space in general?
A: COVID-19 has introduced many challenges to the status quo in terms of not only public perception of mental health, but also ability to reach and provide resources and support to individuals. Maintaining student contact and interactions during COVID-19 has proven to be more difficult with the lack of on-campus activities and access to daily foot traffic for activities such as tabling and large turnouts for events. While departments and organizations at my college have been doing their best to continue engaging with our student communities, the lack in-person interactions where students could connect with others and experience empathy has drastically reduced the reach of the administration and magnified student life challenges like loneliness, apathy, racism, and discrimination.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part about your advocacy work?
A: I have experienced many blessings as a consequence of my activities and volunteering. Helping establish DVC’s first telehealth service after over two years of advocacy and petitioning has been one of the most rewarding experiences. DVC students now have access to free, 24/7 medical and mental health services! Helping students during COVID-19, a time when it feels like everyone is alone, and in a country where healthcare comes at a premium, I could not think of a better gift to give my peers. Having been enrolled in school and needing help when there was none, I am delighted to know that students now don’t have to go through the same struggle as I did several semesters ago.
Q: What words of advice do you have for other student leaders trying to change the way we approach mental health?
A: Anything you do, give it your best, and don’t go at it alone—collaborate with others and create a network of support and resources. Not everyone will want to help, and some people may not even acknowledge mental health, but if you give it your honest effort, you have nothing to be ashamed of if things don’t turn out well. Also learn from your mistakes, even if the memory of your mistake is painful. Failure has been the best thing for me in terms of learning.
Q: As a full-time student and active mental health advocate, you probably have a lot on your plate. What self-care strategies/tips do you use to manage your own emotional health?
A: You have to develop techniques that work for you. I can’t tell you what it is, no one can really. You have to ask yourself questions, and be honest with yourself. “What makes me anxious, envious, fearful, and how can I cope with these feelings?”
At the moment, my go-to things are exercising, practicing Kendo and martial arts, avoiding social media, having conversations with someone at least once a day, managing my diet, practicing basic hygiene, cleaning my room, going outside for at least an hour a day, making a schedule or list of tasks, practicing good sleep hygiene, avoiding alcohol, and playing saxophone, guitar, or piano.
Q: What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
A: I enjoy technology in general and learning from the simpler designs of the 70’s and 80’s; retro tech is very fascinating to me. As someone who tries to be mindful of sustainability and avoid generating waste, I take pleasure in repairing and upgrading old retro consoles, giving them out as gifts to hopefully give someone something that will keep them smiling when they need a moment of joy or distraction.
JED’s Student Voice of Mental Health Award is an annual award honoring an undergraduate college student who is doing outstanding work on their campus to raise awareness for mental health issues, reduce prejudice around mental illness, and encourage help-seeking among their peers.
Learn more about the award and view previous winners.
If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text HOME to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, text or call 988.
If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.