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Carolina Undergraduates Promote Mental Health Resources Through the Robert E. Bryan Fellowship, an APPLES Service-Learning Program 

By Alex Saunders

Caroline has medium length brown hair and is wearing an olive green top. Behind her is some beach and waves crashing in the ocean.Caroline Clodfelter, director of the student-led TEACH Initiative North Carolina (TEACH), says that substance dependency and mental health are interconnected societal challenges. A rising junior in psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Carolina), Clodfelter aims to leverage her role with TEACH to fight stigmas associated with mental health and to encourage high school and middle school students to be more aware of mental health resources and seek help for themselves and others.

TEACH is supported by the Robert E. Bryan Fellowship at the Carolina Center for Public Service (CCPS). The fellowship, a part of APPLES Service-Learning program, is designed for undergraduate student teams interested in creating social impact locally and/or globally through the creation of an innovative project that addresses a community-identified need. Teams can receive up to $1,500 in the first year and have an option for a second year of funding for $1,000. Bryan Fellows also participate in the one-semester, one-credit hour PLCY 130: Project Management for Social Change, a course where they learn project management skills and interpersonal and group communications.

Zakari is wearing a gray t shirt and in front of a brown background. Zakari is looking directly into the camera and has dark curly hair going down to his ears.Zakari Billo serves as the chair for the connections and development committees and is a rising junior in Chemistry. He says, “PLCY 130 developed our leadership skills and gave us a holistic approach towards breaking stigmas around mental health.”

Clodfelter adds that the funding has made the TEACH group more cohesive and given the team financial resources and space to work together, film presentations and develop the team’s tactics and strategies. The team develops interactive, conversation-style presentations on mental health and substance use.

Harm Reduction

One of the core goals of TEACH is to address the needs of stakeholders to promote positive perceptions around mental health solutions. “Even today mental health is still seen as taboo. We need a new harm reduction approach,” says Billo.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations, harm reduction is “an approach that emphasizes engaging directly with people who use drugs to prevent overdose and infectious disease transmission, improve the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of those served, and offer low-threshold options for accessing substance use disorder treatment and other health care services.”

The group says that an effective harm reduction approach will empower communities, especially their youngest members, to know how to tell when they need help, who to reach out to and exactly how to do that. Clodfelter adds, “As undergraduate students, we are ‘near-peers’. Our method has shown that students can learn better, ask more questions and feel a connection with people closer in age.”

TEACH members say that the near-peer harm reductionist approach is a promising method of getting through to adolescents about mental health and substance use information.

Why TEACH Does This Work

Billo understands from personal experience the powerful impact of receiving support and says that he is open to sharing his diagnoses of ADHD, anxiety and depression. For him, taking stimulant-based medication prescribed by a professional has given him a new-found clarity on life and has broken pre-conceived notions he had around treatment. He hopes that TEACH will guide others to find support.

“[Treatment], for me, has allowed me to develop a self-acceptance that is not as pervasive as it should be,” says Billo. He adds that, as an African American male, he is more aware of racial discrepancies around mental health care and biased perceptions around substance use, which can cause differences in policing between minority and white communities, who use at a similar rate.

Clodfelter is from High Point, North Carolina, and says that there is a high rate of fentanyl use in her community. “The work of TEACH is critical because, at least in my experience, it is so easy to get numb to overdoses and dependency in a community where it is pervasive,” says Clodfelter. “I do this work with TEACH because I do not want that to happen.”

Clodfelter adds, “There is no magic wand that will stop mental health struggles and substance use overnight. However, we all have the power to educate communities and equip them with the tools they need to address mental health and substance use needs.”

TEACH currently consists of three student leaders serving in the executive board and 12 committee members. The initiative was founded in 2020 by Benjamin Gorman and cofounders, Katherine Hendry, Francisco Reyes and Kim Nguyen. Student-serving organizations can visit the TEACH website for a wealth of resources, statistics, information and ways to connect and help expand their work.

A Final Note

As a final note, TEACH offers this insight about their work:

“Being able to measure your success or lack of success is vital to grassroots programs. It is our responsibility to make sure the program, materials and environment we have created are effective. This is especially important to us, as TEACH is addressing an issue that has come from current models continuing without showing effectiveness.”


If you or a loved one are seeking support or have questions about mental health or addiction services, consider reviewing services and resources offered by the Carolina Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

According to a Pew Research Center study in 2017, nearly half of Americans have a family member or close friend who has been addicted to drugs. The study also shows no statistically significant differences between the race, ethnicity, gender, class or education of those polled. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, on average, over nine North Carolinians died each day from a drug overdose in 2020. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, between 2018-2019, over 29% of adults with serious mental illness did not receive treatment, and over 61% with mild mental illness also did not receive treatment.

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