SAMHSA’s Award-Winning Newsletter
March/April 2011, Volume 19, Number 2 

image of Boston University student “secrets”

Boston University: Revealing Secrets Can Help Students

What if you knew the secrets that troubled your friends, colleagues, and strangers on the street?

In 2010, the Boston University (BU) Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation gathered 1,000 anonymous messages from students in an effort to help students experiencing emotional pain understand that they are not alone.

Secrets Include . . .

“I don’t think anyone from here at school will miss me over the summer, because I haven’t really gotten that close to anyone here. I feel unspeakably pathetic about this.”

“I’m afraid to have kids because they might get my depression. But I think I would make a really great mother.” “Sometimes things have gotten so bad that I’ve seriously wanted to die. My mom is the only reason why I wouldn’t. I love you.”

Modeled after Frank Warren’s national PostSecret campaign, BU Secret is a critical part of BU’s mental health promotion and suicide prevention activities made possible by the SAMHSA Campus Suicide Prevention grant that BU received in 2009.

The Need for Community

BU is a large university with 16,000 undergraduates and 13,000 graduate students living on and off campus, which stretches a linear mile-and-a-half down both sides of busy Commonwealth Avenue.

“The actual physical layout of campus is not conducive to creating a sense of community immediately for students,” said Dori Hutchinson, Sc.D., the center’s Director of Services.

Lawrence E. Kohn, M.S., the center’s Director of Development agreed. “There’s an underbelly of community, but for some students, the campus can be very isolating and alienating.”

In addition, as on many college campuses, BU students have expressed feeling shame over talking about emotional or mental health problems, so Dr. Hutchinson and Mr. Kohn are focusing their efforts on raising awareness about campus mental health resources and encouraging students to talk about what they’re feeling.

“Creating a sense of community is a large aim of our SAMHSA grant,” said Dr. Hutchinson.

Sharing Secrets

BU Secret is the most visible activity BU is conducting to combat feelings of shame and raise awareness of mental health resources on campus, she said.

In 2010, the center mailed blank postcards to 8,000 undergraduates and asked them to write out an innermost secret, decorate the card, and return it.

The 1,000 cards received were divided among four highly trafficked residence halls and displayed for 2 weeks. “Students could read the cards and not feel so alone,” said Mr. Kohn. “They realize that so many others are walking around with pain.”

“Around the postcards, we listed in a ticker-tape style all of the mental health resources on campus,” Dr. Hutchinson said. The project has support on all levels of the university, from faculty to the Dean of Students to the Board of Trustees.

The project was done as part of the campus’ Active Minds activities, and as a result, BU was named the Chapter of the Year in 2009–2010. PostSecret creator Frank Warren is now working with the Active Minds national office to expand the program nationwide in an initiative called PostSecretU. (For more information about Active Minds, see SAMHSA News online, May/June 2009 and September/October 2010.)

Another BU Secret campaign is underway, with postcards slated for display in spring 2011. To see a video of the postcards, visit SAMHSA News online.


  Cover Story & Related Articles  
Preventing Suicide on College Campuses

Preventing Suicide on College Campuses

College can be a stressful time, and the numbers bear that out.


  From the Administrator  
Suicide Prevention Is Top Priority

Suicide Prevention Is Top Priority

Suicide prevention is top priority at SAMHSA. Read more.


  Children & Trauma  
Children’s Mental Health

Children’s Mental Health

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day focuses on trauma.


  Grants  
Block Grants: Changes Open for Comments

Block Grants: Changes Open for Comments

Have a comment on the recent changes to the block grants?


  Art & Prevention  
How Art Can Raise Awareness

How Art Can Raise Awareness

SAMHSA commissioned a painting by Sam English.


  Awards Season  
PRISM Awards & Voice Awards

PRISM Awards & Voice Awards

Two awards galas honor accurate depictions of mental health and substance abuse issues.


  Suicide Prevention  
National Action Alliance & High-Risk Groups

National Action Alliance & High-Risk Groups

Nat’l Action Alliance’s new task forces, ER reports on antidepressants, drug-related attempts.


  Alcohol Awareness Month  
From SAMHSA’s Blog

From SAMHSA’s Blog

Who’s at risk? Read SAMHSA’s blog. Videos by states on underage drinking.


  Also in this Issue  
Healing Beyond Borders

Healing Beyond Borders

SAMHSA-Iraq Initiative focuses on mental health.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury

An advisory from SAMHSA’s CSAT.


  Statistics & Data  
Inhalants Update

Inhalants Update

Inhalants are dangerous. Who is “huffing”?


  Women & Substance Abuse  
Young Mothers

Young Mothers

Age 15 to 19 is a vulnerable time.


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