Annenberg students and Caleb Williams team up to tackle mental health stigma

In a new PSA, Annenberg students collaborated with national partners to increase conversation surrounding mental health.

[One-sentence description of what this media is: "A photo of a vaccine site on USC campus" or "Gif of dancing banana". Important for accessibility/people who use screen readers.]

A pair of Annenberg students produced and starred in a new PSA alongside sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams in a high-profile effort to increase conversations around mental health on campus.

The video, curated by Annenberg students Shreya Ranganath and Christian John Bradley, was screened Tuesday afternoon in the Annenberg lobby. The screening was followed by a panel hosted by Annenberg Dean Willow Bay featuring various mental health professionals.

“Stress is always going to be there,” panelist Kelly Greco, a USC Student Health psychologist, said. “It’s about managing it and having a problem-solving mindset in terms of what are my resources, choices of options, and really utilizing my strengths to move through it and not get stuck.”

Ranganath and Bradley’s video was produced in partnership with Seize the Awkward, a campaign created by the JED Foundation and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in partnership with advertising non-profit Ad Council.

“It’s good to reach out, and breaking that stigma [around mental health] in my own life is what motivated me to want to allow other people to do the same thing,” Ranganath said.

Photo of student filmmaker holding a microphone, speaking on a panel.

Seize the Awkward is committed to providing the tools necessary to start conversations about mental health, despite the perceived taboos of the subject.

“One of the biggest takeaways that I saw is that everyone has their own struggles,” Indira Escobar, a freshman communications student in attendance, said. “So in regards to talking about mental health, I think it just comes to that individual person and who you have next to you.”

Erica Riba, a director of school engagement for the JED foundation, spoke about Seize the Awkward’s impact on sparking conversations around mental health. “[The PSA is] making it so that checking in with someone doesn’t have to be scary, although it sometimes can feel that way.”

Panelists hoped that the video would give USC students assurance that they are not isolated in their struggles and encourage healthy mental health practices.

“Good mental health can look like acclimating to your environment, creating social connections with your peers, getting really actively involved on campus,” Riba said. “Whether that means with small groups, large groups and community organizations finding balance, finding your own self-care, community of care, what works for you and doing just that.”

As the conversation around mental health increases, so does students’ ability to safely navigate their struggles.

“We see that students that are thriving and resilient take that problem-solving mindset and use their resources, use their strengths and really look at, okay, what are the choices and options that I have?” Greco said. “Even though I’m not happy that this is happening to me, what can I do about it?”

According to the JED foundation, 29.1 percent of college students have diagnosed anxiety, while 23.6 percent struggle with diagnosed depression. Among adults aged 18-24, 25.5 percent have considered suicide within the past month, the highest of any age demographic. Seize the Awkward’s efforts aspire to change these odds.

[One-sentence description of what this media is: "A photo of a vaccine site on USC campus" or "Gif of dancing banana". Important for accessibility/people who use screen readers.]

“For the majority of my life, I didn’t even know that I was struggling with mental health because it’s a way of life for me,” Bradley said. He hopes that, in sharing his own experience and taking ownership of his own fight, he will empower other students to do the same.