Sonia Doshi – University of Michigan

Sonia Doshi is a junior in the Bachelor of Science in Information program at the University of Michigan (UM), focusing in User Experience Design. She grew up in a suburban town that did not talk about mental illness. While she was in high school, her best friend was at the top of their class and on his way to a high reaching university when he fell under the weight of building pressure into a spiral of depression. This was the first time she had to confront mental illness and recognize that it was real and could happen to anybody. His fears of openly seeking help made her realize that she needed to reverse the stigma and open up the conversation in her community and beyond. She carried this mission with her through college. During her freshman year, she attended a leadership conference where she developed a vision to impact the community by de-stigmatizing mental health on college campuses.

As a sophomore, Sonia began volunteering with the Healthy Minds Network (HMN), a mental health research team for young adults and adolescents, which began her journey towards this vision. She worked with HMN to design an online forum for students to discuss and resolve problems related to stress, which allowed her to combine her academic focus in user experience design with her passion for mental health. The following summer, Sonia was hired as the Research Study Coordinator for the Healthy Minds Network, where she has since coordinated all of the team’s local research studies on mental health education. These studies test the effectiveness of internally-produced, short engaging video interventions to increase help-seeking and coping skill behaviors for college student populations.

Sonia has been heavily involved with the AthletesConnected Project, in partnership with the UM Depression Center and the Athletics Department, that works to provide support and encourage help-seeking behaviors in the heavily stigmatized athletic community.

In the fall of 2014, Sonia organized the Tinyshifts National Film Competition that called on college students around the country to submit a short two-minute film that portrayed how they coped with stress. She heavily utilized social media sharing in this competition to not only promote creative thinking on mental health but also encourage conversation around the films developed. She plans to make this an annual event moving forward.

This year, Sonia has also started a student organization called the Healthy Minds Student Leadership Coalition, which brings together students from across campus that represent a variety of communities at Michigan for the purpose of discussing research and increasing on-campus programming related to mental health. This coalition has put on several mental health awareness events in partnership with other organizations around campus. In particular, Sonia produced the campus’ first annual Mental Health Monologues. This event provided a safe space for nine students to share their stories related to mental health and illness through performances of spoken word, poetry, and dance. She worked with each of the performers personally throughout the semester to develop their scripts, feel prepared to share their story, and find closure and comfort throughout the experience.

Sonia is incredibly motivated and energized by the growing movement around mental health advocacy on her campus and is committed to continue to grow that initiative in her community and nationally wherever she goes. She wishes to inspire others to be a resource and support system for people who are suffering from mental health issues in the same way that she aims to be every day. She knows that there is more work left for her vision to become a reality, but will continue to actively change the conversation in the hopes of one day changing the world.

JED would also like to acknowledge our two outstanding 2015 finalists:

  • Nicholas Gumas – The George Washington University
  • Amanda Pennington – University of Denver

Learn more about the award and view previous honorees.