Meril Tomy ’17 was one of 14 students to receive a Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship, a $10,000 grant to design and implement a public service project over one year. Since then, Tomy has spent her summer establishing the foundation for her project, which will promote awareness about mental health, improve access to information and resources, and aim to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in her hometown of Orange, California.
As a high school student, Tomy volunteered as a basic medical assistant at Lestonnac Free Clinic in Orange, which offers medical and dental health services to uninsured and low- to no-income community members. According to Tomy, the clinic offered an impressive range of services, but it was unable to provide the sort of mental health care resources that many patients needed.
“Clinic staff had mentioned to me that patients were eager for mental health resources at the clinic, and I kept this in mind as I began my studies at Scripps,” she recalls.
Recently, Lestonnac began offering counseling services to patients, and Tomy’s project will build off of their critical work. Currently, she is compiling a mental health resource guide for Orange County. From October through April, she will help run mental health programs and discussions facilitated by a partnership between Lestonnac and student volunteers from the Claremont Colleges. Tomy also plans to establish a campus organization that will connect 5C students with the community via monthly educational sessions intended to destigmatize mental health problems.
“My goal with this project is to encourage a positive atmosphere surrounding mental health in a community that normally doesn’t have access to mental health resources,”she explains.
Additionally, there will be on-campus sessions jointly led by Tomy and Claremont Colleges faculty to give students an opportunity to discuss their own mental health issues as well as those surrounding health care, well being, and gender and sexuality in minority communities. There will also be on-campus trainings led by Qutayba Abdullatif, a visiting lecturer in psychology at Scripps College, to equip student volunteers to handle difficult or emotionally charged situations. Abdullatif has extensive experience working a clinical psychologist.
“I hope that students become sensitized to the needs of community members in terms of mental health resources. The disparity of resources between the various communities in Southern California is a critical problem, and I believe that students who choose to participate in this program are making real progress in addressing the issue,” says Abdullatif.
“Ultimately, what I hope the community gains,” says Tomy, “is awareness and understanding of various mental health issues as well as solidarity among community members who experience similar problems and concerns.”