Student Voice of Mental Health Award Winner Areli Rosales on the Power of Vulnerability

Areli Rosales has always felt it was her duty to help heal the people in her life. Growing up the child of an immigrant mother with three sisters, she saw the struggles her loved ones faced and wanted to be the one to break generational trauma — but mental health was rarely discussed.

That was until Areli faced mental health challenges of her own, and decided to use her experiences to open up the conversation and inspire others with her vulnerability. In her journey of healing she has created a path for others to do the same. And as this year’s undergraduate Student Voice of Mental Health Award winner, Areli continues to dedicate herself to being an advocate for all.

Areli Rosales, JED's 2024 undergraduate Student Voice of Mental Health Awards Winner.A first-generation college sophomore at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Areli is studying to one day become a clinical psychologist. She founded KeepInMind, an initiative committed to raising mental health awareness that has expanded across her college campus through support groups and weekly workshops. Areli is also a mental health peer advocate, podcast host, writer, and short film producer.

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 in their school communities. The award includes a $3,000 scholarship and presentation of the award at JED’s annual gala in New York City on June 3, 2024. 

We talked to Areli about her efforts to create a culture of vulnerability and acceptance.

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

It means I am moving in the right direction in my mental health advocacy work. I’ve been fond of The Jed Foundation’s work for a while, and I have been keeping my eye on the award, as well as previous winners and the incredible efforts they have been making in the youth mental health space. The fact that I am now in their company and being recognized for my work serves as a reassurance that I’m making a positive impact. I feel empowered to keep going. 

You speak very openly about the mental health challenges you’ve experienced, which takes a lot of courage. What has allowed you to be so candid and confident in conversations around mental well-being?

When I first left psychiatric treatment in 2020, I was very open with a friend about what I had just been through. I did it even though I was hesitant to be open with anybody. My friend’s response was very encouraging in the sense that she had gone through similar experiences with her mental health. It was a powerful moment for me that showed that vulnerability invites vulnerability. If you open up, you might encourage someone else to share their story and find strength. It also was a catalyst for deepening my relationship with my friend, which showed me that being vulnerable can create a path to deeper, more meaningful connections.

Based on your experiences working in the youth mental health space — and being a young person yourself — what do you think teens and young adults need to be more comfortable opening up about when it comes to their mental health?

We need to break down stigmas around mental health and barriers to help-seeking, and a big part of that is seeing the adults in our lives talk about uncomfortable, heavy things in an open and transparent way. We also need to see that behavior at school and in the media we consume every day. Mental health is often talked about in such a cautious, selective way. We need to be having real, raw conversations about what it can look like to struggle with your mental health and get help. Like I said, vulnerability can inspire vulnerability! 

You created the KeepInMind initiative to raise mental health awareness. As part of that, you also launched a podcast on which you and your peers talk about mental health topics such as overcoming trauma and comparing yourself to others. Can you talk more about your inspiration for those efforts and your goals for each?

During the pandemic, so many of us were not having in-person interactions and we were feeling isolated. I got the idea to start an Instagram page to discuss mental health and spread awareness in a way that’s accessible to all. I reached out to my community’s social media page where local events and initiatives are featured, and once they posted about KeepInMind, it took off! 

I received a lot of feedback from people in the community who were interested in being part of the conversation and sharing their own mental health experiences. That led me to start support groups and look for even more ways to unite the community around mental health. Now I have a team from my hometown that I collaborate with to keep the initiative going, and I’m proud to say it has been growing with me. As I start to look toward my career, I hope I will not only be able to give people a space to talk about their mental health, but I’ll also develop the skills to train them to be mental health advocates. 

Can you talk a little bit about the impact your family — namely, your mother and sisters — has had on your mental health journey and decision to become a mental health advocate?

The women in my life are warriors who have gone through so much. They are huge inspirations to me. As I was growing up, I saw the trauma they experienced and I felt empowered to be a source of healing for them. They taught me that it’s possible to still live a beautiful life despite experiencing trauma. That trauma is not a barrier — it is just an obstacle to overcome. 

My family is the primary reason I have a great interest in working with Hispanic communities. Not only because I was raised in one and it’s a big part of who I am, but also because I believe Hispanic culture is one of resilience and one I want to celebrate and add to. 

With all you do, how do you make time to care for your own mental health? 

I’m a big advocate for therapy. It has helped me on my journey and it’s something I’ll continue to utilize. It’s a space for me to unravel my thoughts and my experiences. I’ve also developed a meditation practice over the past few years. It’s non-negotiable every single day to let my mind stop for a little bit and just breathe. 

Journaling is also a big part of my daily life and mental health routine. My pen and paper will never get tired of me talking about the same thing. It has been helpful for me to understand my experiences and better understand myself. All those things help me stay grounded and give me perspective.

Get Help Now

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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.