In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and amid increasing attention toward how the coronavirus pandemic can affect individuals with mental health conditions, the Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Mental Health Grad Network announced three winners of the inaugural Meyer-Beers essay contest.

The contest, which was funded by a Ten by Twenty grant from the Office of the President, aimed to crowdsource innovative ideas for recruiting and retaining students with mental illnesses and other conditions that contribute to neurodiversity, such as autism spectrum disorder.

The first-place winner, Grace Steward, is a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She proposed a new mentor-mentee training program that would help to establish healthy relationships between thesis advisers and their students. She noted that thesis advisers may not know about the resources available to support students or may not feel comfortable initiating discussions about mental health.

“Although resources like UHS Mental Health and JHSAP are vital to the success of [neurodiverse] students, they alone cannot identify and intervene when a student is in crisis. Professors and principal investigators — the mentors and advisers to students — are most likely to witness the signs of emotional distress and neurodivergence.”

The proposed program would host training workshops for students and advisers and formalize annual check-ins with a mentoring counselor. Steward’s essay was inspired by her own experience adjusting to a new ADHD diagnosis during graduate school.

Two runner-up essays were also recognized. Sya Hugh, an undergraduate student in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, proposed a new course and affinity group to advocate for neurodiverse students. An anonymous medical student shared his experience with test anxiety and proposed that medical students who fail two exams in one semester should be referred to a mental health provider automatically.

The essay contest winners will each receive a cash prize and will also have the opportunity to implement some aspects of their proposals.

Visit the Disability Health Research Center site to read the winning entries and learn more about the winners.


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