Mental health scholarships are gaining momentum, thanks to universities and donors.

For most people, sharing their struggles with mental health is a relatively new development. Earlier, it seemed like being vulnerable would affect a student’s chances of earning admissions or scholarship opportunities. Will Geiger, the co-founder and CEO of Scholarships360, was quoted saying, “Students think that they need to be ‘perfect’ or only show their accomplishments and I believe that with the help of more scholarships and awareness, this is shifting.”

At ScholarshipOwl, an online platform that hosts scholarships, over 12 scholarships are offered 2 to 4 times each year. Jennifer Finetti, the director of advocacy and outreach at the organization says that “while these scholarships have been available for many years, the number of available scholarships has ballooned, primarily in recognition of the fact that there are more and more students who are struggling and need extra support.” 

Terence O. Hayes Sr.’s story sheds light on how mental health is not well understood or openly discussed in the Black community. After his mother committed suicide when he was 11, Hayes decided he will not let another kid have to go through what he did. As a result, the Ethel Hayes Destigmatization of Mental Health Scholarship came into existence.

This scholarship is open to all students who have either personally suffered from psychological hardships or watched a loved one struggle with them. The application for the scholarship closes in June, and the awardees’ names are declared on July 13th, Hayes’ mother’s birthday. Two students received 3,500 USD as part of the scholarship amount last year. This year, Hayes aims to make a bigger impact by awarding scholarships to 4 or 5 worthy recipients by raising a sum of 10,000 USD. 

There is rising awareness regarding mental health among the younger generation too. Abena Bonsu, one of last year’s recipients of the Ethel Hayes Destigmatization of Mental Health Scholarship, wrote about the vast disparities in mental health care at a program for high school students conducted in Harvard Medical School. The importance of fostering a sense of community and reaching out was highlighted so that students battling these issues do not feel alone or isolated. 

Dror Liebenthal is the co-founder and CEO of Bold.org, the site where Hayes hosts his scholarship. Liebenthal said that various donors like Hayes are coming forward to create opportunities for students who have been affected by mental illness. While some mental health scholarships cover a wide range of psychological ailments and disabilities, some specifically cater to students suffering from a particular disease. These can include Tourette’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more. 

The scholarships have different eligibility requirements and criteria. The Quell Foundation Fighter Scholarship is only for students who are clinically diagnosed with a mental health condition. On the other hand, some scholarships do not require a medical diagnosis but ask students to write an essay about their mental health struggles. 

Other scholarships like the Ethel Hayes Destigmatization of Mental Health Scholarship are for students who have witnessed the loss of a loved one due to these ailments. One particular scholarship is solely dedicated to helping students studying mental health care. 

Leigh Anne White, assistant professor of human medicine at Michigan State University and chair of the national Higher Education Mental Health Alliance, raised a very valid point on the necessity of mental health scholarships. She talked about how those with mental health issues have to bear huge costs for seeking medical assistance and counseling. Medication is quite costly and some students with mental illness might not be able to work part-time during college, which would further add to their struggles. Comprehensive insurance coverage owners may also not want to use their plans for fear of being alienated. 

Mental health scholarships play a monumental role in reducing the stigma around these challenges. This encourages people to come forward and both donate and seek financial aid. Most mental health scholarships are sponsored by families who have directly faced the devastating consequences of mental illness, including those who have lost a child to suicide. According to White, “Mental health scholarships have the message that we value people who have a mental health disability, we want them to succeed in college and we recognize some of the additional struggles.”