Student Voice of Mental Health Award Winner Jose Caballero on Giving Young Adults a Platform to Share Their Stories

Jose Caballero understands how important it is to give everyone–especially students–a voice. 

As this year’s undergraduate Student Voice of Mental Health Award winner, Jose has dedicated himself to giving everyone in his community a chance to talk openly about their journeys with mental health. In high school, he founded In Touch, the school’s first mental health awareness nonprofit created to give students a place to connect and share their mental health stories. Inspired by his passion for storytelling, Jose later started Get In Touch, a blog where young people submit stories on a variety of mental health topics. Currently a freshman at Florida International University, Jose is pursuing a degree in psychology and hopes to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology.

The Jed Foundation (JED) created the Student Voice of Mental Health Award to recognize students for their outstanding efforts to raise awareness for mental health issues and encourage help-seeking behaviors among those in their communities. The award includes a $3,000 scholarship and attending JED’s annual gala in New York City on June 7. 

We talked with Jose to learn more about his work and its impact. 

Q: What does it mean to you to have won this award?

A: Winning this award signifies the collective strength and resilience of new generations that carry the purpose of the common good of all people and strive to cultivate an understanding of mental health in our communities.

I will not claim that I am the most impactful student in the world or even within the South Florida community. I will say, however, that my work speaks the voices of thousands now and thousands more to come in the future. This award is not solely for me; it also recognizes Latino, queer, first-generation, and low-income communities that are represented through my efforts and will continue to benefit from the awareness and resources that I advocate for.

The JED Student Voice of Mental Health Award is a reminder of hope, showcasing the transformative power of youth innovation in addressing mental health challenges.

Q: Tell me more about what inspired your work on In Touch and Get In Touch. 

A: In its previous 119 years of existence, my former high school provided no mental health resources or awareness. Miami High is located in a predominantly low-income, Hispanic community, with most students being first-generation children of immigrantsincluding myself. Although I was surrounded by highly intelligent and academically-inclined students, the environment was stressful, demanding, and tiring. My friends and I struggled a lot with academic burnout and stress, but my high school didn’t even have a school psychologist. This encouraged me to take action and establish In Touch, the first mental health awareness nonprofit at Miami High. 

What began as a small nonprofit organization with some friends in the summer of 2021 evolved into a 400-member community by the end of my senior year. Today, In Touch continues its legacy with a new dedicated executive board and faculty committed to fostering emotionally competent leaders.

My Get In Touch blog is a new initiative I created to further advocate for mental health, particularly in historically marginalized communities. This initiative combines my passion for storytelling and mental health advocacy, enabling me to offer a platform for individuals to share their voices and lived experiences. As a psychology major, I also write about the complexities of mental health. It’s uplifting and empowering when previous writers have told me how grateful and happy they are to have a platform to share their voices. I hope to continue expanding this initiative in the future and continue to showcase the rich tapestry of perspectives and experiences that exist in our society.

Q: You said that writing is your first love. How do you use writing as a tool for mental health advocacy, and as a way to support your own mental health? 

A: As a child living without both of my parents in Nicaragua and experiencing ostracism due to my sexuality, I felt isolated most of the time. However, I always had my pen and diary, filled with dreams and stories from days when I felt sad, happy, or confused. For me, writing (in both English and Spanish) flows naturally and serves as an outlet for boundless creativity.

One of my all-time favorite writers is Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, a Mexican writer who defied societal norms and advocated for women’s right to education through her craft, providing me with a constant source of inspiration. In my role as Editor-in-Chief of the Get In Touch blog, I similarly harness the power of writing to advocate for mental health awareness in underrepresented communities and educate readers on crucial issues. Through thought-provoking pieces, ranging from analyzing the portrayal of mental health on “WandaVision” to composing evocative mental health poetry, I have honed my own voice and effectively utilized it to address pressing issues that I am passionate about.

Q: You mention that your work with In Touch allowed you to bring to light conversations that have long been ignored in your community. Why is it important to talk about these issues openly with students? 

A: I always say that Taylor Swift is my English professor. As someone who moved to Miami in 2018, I struggled immensely to adapt to the American high school curriculum while also learning English—as did a lot of my friends. At school, no one talked about the excruciating process of being a first-generation student or a non-native English speaker. At school, no one talked about suicide or even the long-term repercussions of trauma. At school, I felt alone. I thought I was the only one struggling with stress, language barriers, and the insane pressure high schoolers face.

It wasn’t until In Touch started to give students a platform to share their stories that I realized I was not alone. These open and candid mental health conversations, led by students and school faculty, illustrate the potential of normalizing mental health discussions, helping students feel understood, supported, and self-aware. I will never forget when Ms. Cid, Miami High’s chorus teacher, openly talked about her experience with PTSD. She empowered fellow faculty members to share their mental health journeys through In Touch, while also giving students hope and reassurance. I can certainly say that her meeting was the most remarkable and memorable In Touch has ever hosted. And the fact that a teacher was able to openly talk about PTSD and grief proved to me the healing elements of these conversations.

Students aren’t voiceless, we just need the platform to share them!

Q: You’re currently working on an independent research project on body dissatisfaction and its impact on mental health. What do you hope to learn and share by studying this issue more in-depth?  

A: I’ve always wondered why women in my family glamorize the idea of a “perfect body,” whereas men don’t show interest in their bodies. My aunts in Nicaragua would always complain about their bodies while my uncles sat silently watching fútbol. I think it’s very interesting and crucial to incorporate more research like this into academia, and especially further investigate the gaps in the literature, such as mental imagery across genders, perception of emotional intelligence cross-culturally, and the long-term impacts on mental health disorders that body dissatisfaction leads individuals to.  

My current research project serves as the foundation for my future dissertation in pursuit of a PhD in clinical psychology. It also seeks to uncover the consequences of an issue that both my friends and I have personally experienced. I’m particularly interested in exploring whether emotional intelligence training, specifically within a Hispanic sample population, can influence body satisfaction levels and mental health.

Q: How do you plan to continue your advocacy work after college?

A: It’s hard to believe that four years ago I was studying by candlelight, fearing for my life in Nicaragua, and now I have the opportunity to study with some of the brightest minds in the world. I know I’m privileged to be here, and there are a lot of barriers that hinder the growth of students, both in individualistic and collectivistic cultures. I wholeheartedly believe we need to keep advocating for youth. We’re still struggling to have a seat in the room where mental health policiespolicies that directly relate to our struggles and lived experiencesare discussed and made.

After college, I hope to continue conducting more research on mental health in youth, further engage in mental health policy for K-12 and higher education, and bring accessible Spanish-translated mental health resources to schools in Nicaragua. We are lucky to have organizations like The Jed Foundation in the United States.

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