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I am a

MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE

I am a mental health advocate and activist. I believe my generation will be the one to eliminate the stigma around mental health challenges.

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One in four people in the US suffer from a moderate to severe mental health challenge. Some have found support, but the others may be too afraid to find help. They may feel too ashamed, embarrassed, and are worried what others will think about them. Or maybe, they don’t even have access to care.

 

My mental health education first started with The Social Dilemma, a documentary that discusses social media’s effects on teens and tweens. I learned that suicide rates in females between the ages of 10 and 14 have soared 150% between 2009—the start of social media—and 2019. This made me wonder…why have we been so silent about this? Why do we let these deaths keep increasing, when we could do something to stop them?

So I created my first award-winning documentary short, “Power to Save a Life,” about how teaching teens and tweens Digital Citizenship can help teens navigate social media in a healthier way. In the documentary, I interviewed Mrs. Marti McGuirk, one of the Mountain View High School Assistant Principals. I also interviewed Dr. Laura Kauffman, a local teen psychologist. 

As I did research for this documentary, and talked to my peers, I realized that my middle school needed a more youth-focused approach to becoming stigma-free.

A couple months later, thanks to Mrs. Gay Krause, I spoke at my first Mountain View-Los Altos-Los Altos Hills Challenge Team meeting. The MVLA Challenge team is an organization made of educators, police officers and community members dedicated to bringing awareness to, and solving problems in our community. Soon after, I founded the Empathizers, a student-led peer-to-peer club that works to spread mental health awareness and help destigmatize the school community.

By the end of my 8th grade year, the Empathizers were up to almost 40 members. In addition to creating PSAs for the morning announcements, making awareness posters, and hosting activities like Mental Health Awareness Month, during our meetings, we spent a lot of time checking in with one another. Every club meeting started with members giving a thumbs up, a thumbs sideways, or a thumbs down based on how they were feeling that week. We started with the people who gave a thumbs down, and just listened to them. And then we ended with talking about things in our lives like exciting opportunities, family events, or good grades. By the end of our meetings…everyone looked relieved, like a weight had been lifted off of their shoulders. All of the members had opened up about big and small things going on in their lives.

 

Providing a place for young people to talk about how they are feeling helps them clarify their emotions. Our club was a safe space and an example of how peer-to-peer communication and support can help teens and tweens. We need students to take initiative. We need students to raise their voices, with one another, and with adults.

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In addition to founding the Empathizers, in the past year, I spoke at the Krause Center for Innovation’s SELebrate Learning event. In January, I was the only student on a panel hosted by the SF Commonwealth Club for the UCSF Department of Psychiatry. I have also joined the Mountain View’s Teen Advisory Council, TAC, for the Community Health Awareness Council, CHAC. By participating in these events and groups, my goal is to inspire other teens to advocate for mental health and come forward in their time of need.

During TAC’s bi-weekly meetings, thanks to Ms. Shannon Fitzpatrick, the leader of TAC, we discuss our own self-care. Especially, in the Bay Area, we are a generation of over-achievers. We need to be reminded that a balanced life can drive success, too. Through TAC, I have also served on a panel to help express to the CHAC clinicians exactly what TAC members are seeing at our schools and how CHAC can help. 

Meanwhile, I created my second award-winning documentary, Stigma-Free Nation: Pathway to Parity to show how proper enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act is crucial to eliminating this stigma. This stigma prevents many teens and tweens from picking up the phone, walking into a school office to sign up for counseling, or even just talking to their parents or friends to get help.

I recently spoke at the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies’ Virtual Town Hall. CBHA supports a bill backed by Representative Mike Gipson to provide $10 million to California non-profits, such as CHAC, to provide peer-to-peer mental health services to teens and tweens. While the bill’s services are limited to students eighteen and over, it is still a step in the right direction. 
 

I am also on the Youth Advisory Boards for the California Children’s Trust and California Coalition for Youth, and we lobby for this type of progress. Through CCT's Youth Advisory Board, I have become a Youth Consultant on the California Department of Health Care Services' upcoming mental health resources app.

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I have also become a Youth Consultant for the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing. I am currently working with Jules Manuel Villanueva-Castano, the Center's Peer Support and Supported Education and Employment Manager, on using Harvard Medical School's Strength in Us adult mental health curriculum to create a Strength in Youth adolescent mental health curriculum.

I’m also a HEARTS Youth Mental Health Ambassador and Research Intern at UCSF, where I will be working with Dr. Lisa Fortuna and Dr. Michelle Porche to educate myself more on the scientific aspect of mental health.

Next year I will be creating a chapter of the Bring Change to Mind anti-stigma club at Mountain View High School, as the Club President.

Mental health has become exponentially more important since the start of the pandemic. I believe that my generation, with the help of adults, has the ability to stop stigma, especially among teens. I believe my generation could someday be stigma-free, through peer-to-peer communication and support, mental health parity, and more mental health education in schools. After the world-wide pandemic, it is time.