Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

Humans of Hopkins: Trace Terrell

By JOHN CINTRON | February 22, 2024



Terrell shared his aspirations to support mental health through his work in national and global policy.

Trace Terrell is a sophomore studying Public Health and Writing Seminars at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. He is currently a part of the Hopkins Semester in D.C. (HSDC) program and works with Active Minds, Inc. as a Policy Intern. In an interview with The News-Letter, Terrell discussed his work in youth mental health, his views on the mental support services at Hopkins and his experience in the HSDC program.

The News-Letter: How did you become involved in mental health advocacy?

Trace Terrell: I’d like to start by just centering my lived experience. From middle school to early high school, I struggled a lot with suicidal ideation, depression, disordered eating and some other mental health challenges. I remember just feeling so isolated and alone in my rural community, where those conversations were pretty much non-existent and where access to care was also limited. At the same time, I was also struggling with the stigma around men's mental health, complicated by my sexual orientation and queerness. I remember so many nights I would just lay in bed and wish to wake up straight, because I thought that would fix all of my mental health issues. 

Dealing with all of that motivated me to get involved with an organization called YouthLine, which is a teen-to-teen crisis support hotline. The role involved responding to calls, texts, chats and emails from young people across the world. I realized that I wasn't alone, and my mental health challenges were a microcosm of these much larger public health issues. I was really passionate about getting involved to make sure that other young people would never have my experience.

N-L: Here at Hopkins, has the environment fostered a good sense of mental health for you?

TT: Compared to where I was in high school, Hopkins definitely has supported my mental health and empowered me to seek the care and help that I needed. Being in a diverse city is really beneficial to your mental health. Meeting new people who understand and who get my experiences has been huge. 

Hopkins has opened up a lot of great academic and professional opportunities for me. I was able to work on the rollout of a national social impact plan with MTV, so I was able to go to the VMAs to premiere that for the first time. I’ve also done work on a digital YouTube experience. It matters so much to me that I'm able to turn my past pain into a lot of purpose and action.

N-L: What improvements do you think can be made at Hopkins to better support students suffering from mental health challenges?

TT: I've been pretty involved with the University's mental health movements and some of the student organizations around that. I actually started my own club called Active Minds at Hopkins. We do a lot of prevention and early intervention work. As a whole, Hopkins has a lot of incredible resources. It has a Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team that will come to you anywhere on campus and offer a direct mental health professional when you're going through something really tough. 

There is awareness. We need young people to lead those awareness efforts. It matters a lot that talking about mental health comes from me rather than the administration or staff, whom I don't think we relate to on a fundamental level. Equipping young people to have those conversations in the Hopkins community is essential.

N-L: You have a lot of research background. Can you detail your research experience and how that connects to you personally?

TT: In high school, I did a needs assessment around my school’s mental health curriculum to identify barriers and why some topics in mental health weren’t included. From that, I was able to create a student task force for mental health and really create some change, which was incredible.

In some of my other roles, I'm pursuing research into peer support policy, specifically on how we can equip and credential young people to go out into their schools, communities and lives to support others. That's a great complement to the traditional mental health workforce. In the D.C. program that I'm in right now, I'm going to be looking at international hotline systems. The U.S. has enacted and implemented 988 across the country, which has been critical. It's essentially a direct parallel to 911. Canada has also done the same thing. I'm going to be looking at what that unified construction means for crisis intervention services internationally. In other words, what does it mean for there to be Western solidarity for three-digit crisis hotlines, and what effect will that have on global crisis intervention reform?

N-L: Why did you choose to partake in the HSDC program?

TT: My academic and professional focus is on Youth Mental Health Policy. The theme for the HSDC program was international affairs and policy, so I thought it was a cool parallel. I've worked mainly in the domestic mental health policy space, but it's always great to broaden your horizons and explore new avenues. It's been great to contextualize my work as part of the global community. 

The [academic seminar] I'm taking is on human rights and global justice. Again, this is a direct parallel to the work that I'm doing in the mental health space, making sure that we're talking about mental health as a human right while also acknowledging that mental health is tough. 

N-L: Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years? 

TT: I’m putting in a lot of legwork now to set myself up for a career in the public service space. I'm hoping to work for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It's the Federal Government's main hub for all of the mental and behavioral health efforts. They also have a 988 division, so it'd be cool to work there. If not, working in the nonprofit area would also be pretty interesting. I definitely want to end up working in policy or Congressional Affairs on a day-to-day basis, while also supporting people, mobilizing around those efforts and being able to advocate. As we always say, young people are the leaders of tomorrow. The more that we treat them as counterparts in a professional and scholarly context, the more we will be able to get the changes and results that we need for our nation.

N-L: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

TT: I would like to address the social impact campaign that I'm working on. It's called ASK (Acknowledge, Support and Keep-In-Touch). I want everyone to know that you can keep that with you as the stop, drop and roll for how to help a friend in need. A lot of people complicate what it means to support someone when they're going through a crisis, and it can get bogged down with mental health language like self-care or therapy. 

My other big thing is that mental health is health. It's not something that needs to be stigmatized or hushed around. I share my stories so that others know that they're not alone. If I had been as vocal or if someone in my life had been as vocal with their mental health challenges, as I am now, that probably would have helped me as a young person, especially as a 14 year old. Don't be afraid to share your story in whatever way feels comfortable for you. Just know that there is a great community out there.

Editor’s Note, 2024: This article has been updated to correct transcription mistakes. The News-Letter regrets these errors.

Have a tip or story idea?
Let us know!

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.

Alumni Weekend 2024
Leisure Interactive Food Map
The News-Letter Print Locations
News-Letter Special Editions