It’s interesting how opportunities and ideas present themselves in our lives. I am surrounded by people who are affected by mental illness, which isn’t a surprise with 1 in 4 people being affected by it.
About a year ago, my mom chose the documentary The Social Dilemma as our Saturday night movie. The documentary was about the effects of social media on tweens and teens. I never realized just how much power social media has on youth mental health. Without Digital Citizenship, education for youth about the digital world, the result can be anxiety, depression and even suicide.
Something sparked in me when I saw that documentary. I’m an 8th grade student at Graham Middle School in the Mountain View-Whisman School District in Mountain View, California. My Broadcast teacher, Mr. Tom Sayer, sent out a flier for the C-SPAN Student Cam contest and I decided to create a 6-minute documentary entry about the positive and negative effects of social media on teens and tweens entitled “Power to Save a Life.” In my research, I explored a lot of topics related to mental health. That is where my true passion for mental health advocacy was born.
I ended up winning Honorable Mention for my piece out of over 2300 student entries. My broadcasting teacher recommended I play it on the school announcements. It caught the eye of our school counselor who was looking for a student voice to represent my middle school at a local non-profit named the Challenge Team. I was asked to speak about what I was seeing at my school.
In taking a step back and looking at my peers before the Challenge Team meeting, I realized just how little we, as teens and tweens, know about mental health and just how much of a stigma there is around it. I noticed that there are a lot of parent universities on mental health in my school district, but nothing offered for my peers. This sparked my desire to fight for more peer-to-peer education and communication in schools. It all goes back to the simple notion that if we arm students with knowledge and a voice, we can save lives.
I spoke at the Mountain View/Los Altos/Los Altos Hills Challenge Team meeting and thanks to Ms. Gay Krause I was connected with a new mentor in my district, Ms. Karin Jinbo, the Mountain View – Whisman School District Health and Wellness Director. I also connected with my school counselor, Ms. Chelsea McDonald, and a few amazing members from Community Health Awareness Council Mountain View (CHAC MV), Ms. Terri Rose and Ms. Nikki Neal. They all allowed me to sit in on their weekly meetings regarding the district and provide a student voice for mental health. They also supported me in my decision to start a mental health task force at my school, Graham Middle School.
I created an ad to recruit members, played it on the school announcements, and had about six students join. We spent six weeks at the end of the 2021 school year brainstorming ideas and decided on the name the Empathizers. In coming up with it, I thought of the one word that represented what I wanted my peers to feel about their peers struggling with mental health issues: empathy.
Since then, we have grown to 17 members. We are still growing. We meet weekly and plan out public service announcements, posters and activities to promote awareness at Graham Middle School.
My goal is to create a template and someday help other schools replicate what we have done.
My goal is to improve peer-to-peer education and communication about mental health everywhere.
My goal is to someday be a stigma-free nation.
I know it’s a long road, but I know we can get there. We call the Empathizers a club, but really it is a movement. A movement for change.