Mental Health

"We are not only fighting for our health, but for our friends and future children." - Amanda Southworth

OLIVIA MILLER

@livcatharine

She/Her/Hers

Olivia Miller.jpg

CW: OCD, anxiety

 

MKM's Mental Health ex team director Emily Weinberg spoke with Olivia Miller, a 19-year-old mental health activist who lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. They talked about her work with Always With Love Co., her social media presence, and her personal experiences with mental health .

Emily: How old are you and where are you from? Tell us a little bit about you.

Olivia: I am 19 years old! I’m from a small town near Waterloo, Ontario. I’m currently living in Waterloo just off-campus from my school, the University of Waterloo. I’m completing a double major in Social Development & Peace and Conflict Studies. I have a specialization from the University of Pennsylvania in Positive Psychology. 

I work as a Community Ambassador for The Umbrella Project, mainly managing their social media and leading workshops with school-aged children. The Umbrella Project is a parenting and classroom curriculum for teaching coping skills to children. I also am a Workshop Facilitator at The Ripple Effect Education, leading sessions with children in schools on peace literacy. TREE aims to give youth the tools they need to resolve conflict in healthy and independent ways. I also run a side hustle, creating custom crystal jewelry pieces at Always With Love Co. I am a volunteer English Tutor at Reception House Waterloo, working with refugees who are new to Canada. I am the event coordinator at Her Campus Waterloo, a club for women by women.

Emily: I would like to talk to you more about your work on mental health advocacy, particularly through your social media presence. I think it’s super cool that you have a blog! What gave you the inspiration to start this? How has been the response?

Olivia: I started my blog, her defiant bliss, because I truly feel in our society that self-love is a form of resistance, for marginalized individuals especially. Unfortunately, we live in a world where prioritizing our mental health requires hard work and can be very uncomfortable. On the blog, I aim to bring forward difficult topics to spark conversations about personal development to further work to end the stigma. 

To increase connection with my social media audience, I started #ShutUpSaturdays to address self-talk patterns and behaviours that have to stop in order to take charge of your own life and self-worth. I find these messages typically come from inspiration in my own life which makes them even more special.

It has been really eye-opening to see how many other advocates are out there and what I can learn from their messages. I love connecting with new people on my platform and I would recommend to anyone to have activists on your feed, it changed a lot for me!

Emily: If you feel comfortable, what has been your experience with mental health? How has it affected your life for the better / for the worse? What inspired you to start speaking out about your personal mental health journey?

Olivia: I have struggled with OCD, anxiety and depression since a very young age. When I was around five years old, I would ask my mom in the car to confirm that she was really my mom because I was anxious about being taken. When I was twelve and the media started talking a lot about the end of the world, I became very anxious and obsessive to know more. I’ve always had patterns with my fingers that I still work hard to this day to ignore, an aspect of OCD that I experience. 

In high school, after struggling with bullying, online harassment and sexual harm, I found myself in a very dark place. My one friend and I were chatting one day about how hard high school is and what little awareness our community had for mental health. We read an article about a teen from Sunderland, UK, who posted positive messages on a frequently travelled bridge and prevented over a dozen suicides in the process. We adapted this idea for our community and Bridges of Hope was born. We ran public events where participants could submit their own positive messages and collaborated with local artists to design them for the bridge. We invited speakers to share their own stories, had a wellness market with resources and had activities for participants to engage in. My co-founder and I were recognized as Leaders of the Year at the Ontario Student Leadership Conference. However, it was never about recognition. 

Bridges of Hope was my own lifeline. In creating this project, I exposed myself to new supports and a new community of people who went through similar experiences. Ever since this campaign, which I continue to execute annually (aside from 2020 due to COVID-19), I have been amazed by the way that vulnerability with others can change your life.

Emily: In your opinion how has mental health advocacy been impacted by COVID? Is there more urgency to push mental wellness since quarantine?

Olivia: I think there is a better understanding now of the importance of prioritizing your mental health because of COVID-19. We are all collectively experiencing a traumatic event, although it will affect some more than others. I think this pandemic is showing us just how little support is accessible and what changes need to be made. I am interested to see how the younger generations, who I am constantly impressed with, will continue to push for a better society.

Emily: How do you think social media impacts our mental health? Does it help build connections or is it as bad as people say it is?

Olivia: I think social media is great with boundaries in place. I have a two hour limit on my social media usage and I’m working hard to stick with this. Social media has been a challenging part of my past. I’ve had my profiles hacked, nasty comments given and privacy invaded. On the other hand, I have been able to connect with those who share the same values and beliefs as me. I think social media limits and boundaries are essential.

Emily: What was the response surrounding your work from your community and your peers? How did your friends and family react to your advocacy? Have they been supportive?

Olivia: I spent the majority of high school being closest to my family. It is only now, in second year university, that I have found friends with similar values who have really changed my life. My community was very excited to support a project like this, as they recognized the need for more mental health awareness. I have met amazing friends through the work I do, although I struggled with my peers during high school.

Emily: What do you think our society needs to do better when it comes to mental health resources, particularly for youth?

Olivia: I have always been passionate about teaching social-emotional learning in schools. I think it is a primary agent of socialization that we need to be more intentional with. Kids spent the majority of their time in schools and with their peers. Their relationships with themselves and others would improve drastically if they were taught coping and conflict resolution skills. I have witnessed it change my life and I know it would change the lives of all children, as I see it with the work I do. Impacting education would be a great way for our society to start making a change. However, anyone can make the decision to show extra kindness to those they interact with every day. There is so much that we don’t know about those around us and it could really positively impact others to simply be kind.

Emily: What is the future for your mental health advocacy? Are there more projects you plan on exploring in the future related to mental health?

Olivia: I’m excited for the future of my advocacy specifically because I don’t know what’s in store yet! I think there are so many different avenues I can go with it so I’m spending this time during COVID-19 to brainstorm and push myself to reflect on big-picture ideas.

Emily: What advice would you give to a person worried for a friend’s safety? Are there any resources you can recommend? How can they provide support?

Olivia: I think it’s important to keep in mind what you can truly offer someone who is struggling. What I had to learn is that I am not the best person to help someone who is really struggling with their mental health, and the best thing I can do is connect them with local resources. Staying informed on what is available in your area is a great, proactive way to help this person. It can strain your relationship with this person if you try to help in bigger ways than you can handle, so please seek professional help if needed.

YULIANA ASTORGA- LICARDIE

@yulianasucks

She/Her/Hers

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MKM's Mental Health ex team director Emily Weinberg spoke with Yuliana Astorga-Licardie, a 17-year-old mental health activist who lives in Lexington, CA. They talked about her involvement with Sophrosyne, the effect of her mental illness with her Latinx- American identity, and her mental advocacy during COVID.

Emily: How old are you and where are you from? Tell us a little bit about you.

Yuliana: I’m 17, from Watertown but moved to Lexington right in the middle of middle school. My parents are originally from Guatemala and Chile, so I speak pretty fluent Spanish.

Emily: Through working with you on Sophrosyne, I know that you’re really passionate about mental health advocacy! Can you tell the readers more about what you do at Sophrosyne? Why is Sophrosyne important to you?

Yuliana: I do a lot of emailing and communicating with people to try and get support for Sophrosyne. Something that I did last year was communicate with representative Jack Patrick Lewis on bill S.244 to figure out what was happening with mental health education in Massachusetts. Another thing I do is work with the other directors to generate ideas and figure out what direction we want to move sophrosyne. A big part of why I'm so passionate about being a part of sophrosyne is that we provide awareness and education about mental health. I think that it is so important that young people know what’s going on in their brains and how to understand their feelings. We do that through social media and our website. I know that I wish I had resources available to me when I was younger to help me understand and cope better with my mental health.

Emily: I would like to talk to you more about your work on mental health advocacy, particularly through outreach! To you, what makes outreach essential for mental health advocacy?

Yuliana: Like I mentioned before I had been in contact with Jack Patrick Lewis for a piece of legislation. I do a lot of things like that where I try to get other organizations, websites, stores, or people involved in sophrosyne or mental health in general. It's really important to me because mental health is still something that isn’t talked about enough. I have the chance to get more people involved in our mission to educate on mental health. Last year I had an opportunity to talk to my school principal about how my high school can better help students. A lot of kids were under the impression that the amidtration didn’t care about the well being of students. When talking to them I found that they wanted to help, but had no idea how to. There was a lack of communication between students and staff. During that meeting we were able to help come up with some next steps on how we could better improve the learning environment. A part of advocacy is working closely with others on how we can make things better together that help everyone.

Emily: If you feel comfortable, what has been your experience with mental health? How has it affected your life for the better / for the worse?

Yuliana: I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember, and without being able to understand how I was feeling other mental health issues came along with it. Mental Illness has run in my family, and my brother has also gone through some stuff when he was in highschool. Both of us didn't have the language to talk about how we were feeling or the coping mechanisms. Without the tools to help myself and having the huge transition to public highschool my mental health declined. I lost all motivation and I don't think I went a day without a panic attack for a few months. My emotions were controlling me and I had no idea how to deal with it. I ended up starting therapy, and more recently going on medication. I have gone through some really low points, and my wish is for everyone to have access to mental health education and support before it's gotten too much to handle. But I also know that those low points have made me stronger, and continue to make me stronger. I have had the chance to change, grow, and self reflect in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if my anxiety has not spiraled out of control.

Emily: To you, has mental health advocacy been impacted by COVID? Is there a higher stress to push mental health support in schools or communities? If so, how can we build up momentum?

Yuliana: I think that it's been harder because Sophrsyne had a bunch of in person activities and events planned. It was a bummer to cancel them, but we did start making online support groups that met every few days to check in with people. I definitely see a lot of schools being more concerned for students during COVID which overall is a good thing. Personally, I found it a bit frustrating because a huge argument was that kids working all day in front of a computer could be too stressful. Kids were spending all day in classrooms without any breaks and people weren't concerned about it. But overall I'm very glad that we have been able to change the outlook on how learning and stress impact students. I think that this is giving us an opportunity to better the system that we have.

Emily: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similar-minded mental health activists who were supportive and who you’ve connected with?

Yuliana: Once I started speaking up about mental health I found out a lot about my friends and peers who were supportive and wanted a way to talk about their own experiences. It's so easy to feel so alone, but when someone opens up the conversation it gives you an opportunity to see that many have experiences like your own. Finding activists who actively wanted to change the way things were was so empowering because we were always looking for ways to make things better. We could build up momentum, and work hard together for a common goal. That has given me a lot of motivation to keep going.

Emily: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to mental health resources, particularly for youth?

Yuliana: I think that we need to start education as early as possible. Giving kids the tools to communicate how they are feeling has such positive impacts. It's a skill that can directly help their development  but it's also a skill that can be built on as they get older. Teaching a toddler to tell you that they are upset or happy or angry can turn into an elementary student asking themselves what made them feel that way. That can turn into a teenager understanding why they feel a certain way and help them gain life long skills. Mental health education isn't just for those who struggle, but it can better everyone. Everyone needs to self regulate, and understand their feelings so they can help themselves and learn to ask for help.

Emily: How do you think your mental health journey has been affected as being a Latinx-American? How has your family reacted to your journey and to your advocacy?

Yuliana: My family has always been supportive of me wanting to make positive change, but I don’t think they always fully understand what I do and what I’m trying to accomplish. My family tends to follow the stereotype of never talking about our feelings and being passive aggressive about it too. It was (and continues to be) a struggle to talk to my family about my own mental health, and what I might need. Although we are all trying, that doesn't mean we get it right every time. We are growing and learning together. Although we struggle with communication, we also follow the stereotype of the importance of family. I know that even if my partners don't always understand me I will always have them there trying. We will do anything for each other, and I’m grateful for that. On a more positive note, because my brother and I have shared experiences we have made a close connection in talking about our mental health. We can talk about what's going on, and help each other. Once we were both able to talk about our own struggles, we became closer and now he's one of my best friends.

Emily: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Yuliana: Over the summer I was a teacher at a montessori summer school program for kids who struggle with reading and come from lower socioeconomic income status. It's the second year I've worked there, and it was such a blast. I really do love working with kids, and because most of them are latino I can connect with them and through having learning disabilities that made school hard for me too. Other than that and sophrosyne I haven't been up to much lately. I've been very focused on college at the moment where I hope to study education and social work.

Emily: What advice would you give to someone struggling with their mental health? Are there any resources you can recommend?

Yuliana: It gets better as long as you hang in there. I know that sometimes it can feel like the whole world is crumbling around you, but you can help rebuild that. You have the power to make change in your own life. Reach out to friends or school counselors who can maybe help you get resources for what you're struggling with. Do your research and look into what can help calm your stresser, find things that calm you. Something that really helped me was looking for reasons to keep on going, however small, it can help. You are never alone, and there are people and places that understand you, you just have to find them. There is always room for one more, there is always a person and a place that is happy to help you.

Emily: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Yuliana: I would say that you just have to go for it. Don’t be scared to be different from your peers because in doing that you will not only find others like you, but also give someone else the courage to speak up. Just because you are one person doesn’t mean you can’t change some else's world for the better. Nothing happens overnight, it's going to take work, but it will be worth it to know you spent your time and energy doing something that helps others. If you are passionate about activism, don’t let others stop you from using your voice. You have power, you can make an impact wherever or whoever you are.

EMILY ZHU

@

She/Her/Hers

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MKM's Mental Health ex team director Emily Weinberg spoke with Emily Zhu, a 17-year-old mental health activist. They talked about her involvement with Sophrosyne, how she incorporates art with her activist work, and mental advocacy during COVID.

Emily: How old are you and where are you from? Tell us a little bit about you.

Emily: My name is Emily Zhu, I’m 17 years old, and I’m a senior at Lexington High School. I have a younger sister named Ashlyn and a Border Doodle named Jack whom I love to spend time with. Aside from being a part of Sophrosyne, I am on an all-female robotics team, and I love to bake in my free time.

Emily: Through working with you on Sophrosyne, I know that you’re really passionate about mental health advocacy! Can you tell the readers more about what you do at Sophrosyne? Why is Sophrosyne important to you?

Emily: I became involved with Sophrosyne in the months leading up to our first Boston mental health rally in 2019, where I contributed to the organizing and planning process. As our organization evolves, I have been focusing more on the design and creative elements such as developing merchandise and building social media presence. Since all of our roles at Sophrosyne are intertwined, I also work with the team on larger projects, outreach, and school- and community-wide events around mental health. For me, Sophrosyne began an outlet where I could explore my own mental health journey coupled with my passion for advocacy. Through my work in Sophrosyne, I have realized that providing spaces of support in mental health conversation is crucial, particularly for the youth; our generation is changing how the systems in place are approaching mental health education and services. I think that’s my goal for Sophrosyne - to play a role in breaking down the stigma around mental illness by building a platform of open dialogue.

Emily: I would like to talk to you more about your work on mental health advocacy, particularly through your art! To you, what makes art essential for mental health advocacy?

Emily: When I was younger, I struggled a lot with communicating my thoughts and feelings and often felt misunderstood. My anxiety would overtake me in social settings and prevent me from being able to talk with my teachers and hang out with my friends the way everyone around me seemed to do so effortlessly. It was frustrating because I’d spend so much effort trying to find my voice only to be met with annoyance and dismay. I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember, beginning with finger painting and graduating to markers, acrylic and oil painting, and jewelry-making. I took art lessons for 10 years where I studied the technical aspects - proportions, lighting, textures, etc. - but I found that art really saved me when I’d create those 2:00 am passion pieces filled with raw emotion and my thoughts poured out. Sometimes I feel I don’t have the right words to encapsulate what I want to say, so I turn to art to manifest my ideas in a more interpretive and universal way. This is especially true surrounding mental health because oftentimes speaking about these topics is daunting and confusing, so using art I feel that I’m able to better “speak” from my core.

Emily: If you feel comfortable, what has been your experience with mental health? How has it affected your life for the better / for the worse?

Emily: I have coped with anxiety and OCD my entire life, but mental health became a prevalent topic for me beginning in seventh grade where for the first time I felt suicidal. As a middle schooler, my view of the world blurred as my day-to-day life - school, friends, extracurriculars - no longer mattered to me. It was a scary concept to grasp at first, and throughout the following years and up until this point I continue to fall into these periods of darkness sometimes. Yet following my formal diagnosis of OCD in my sophomore year, I have built such a strong support system and am working closely with a therapist and OCD specialist which has helped me beyond what I thought was possible. 

Although I would never wish the struggles of mental illness upon anyone, I do think my experiences with mental illness have impacted my life for the better. There are definitely some days when I get frustrated with my OCD and think, “why do I have to spend so much effort working through something that everyone else can do?” but every time I work through it I feel so much more capable. For that reason, I am grateful for how I’ve been able to grow from my mental illness and, of course, I attribute so much of it to all of the people who have gone out of their way to help me through whatever I needed.

Emily: To you, has mental health advocacy been impacted by COVID? Is there a higher stress to push mental health support in schools or communities? If so, how can we build up momentum?

Emily: I cannot stress enough that mental health advocacy is especially important during COVID or any unanimously difficult circumstances. We have done our best to adapt Sophrosyne to COVID by providing resources and informational content that surrounds how to take care of your mental health during these times. I definitely hope that mental health is stressed more than usual in schools and communities because there is such a dire need for it; I know just switching to virtual therapy and ERP sessions has been difficult for me so it’s hard for me to imagine navigating through COVID without any mental health resources. In a time of so much animosity, physical isolation and political division, I think the best way to approach mental health advocacy is incorporating topical events into our work - we strive to address many of these topics head-on in order to best spread awareness and education about how mental health intersects with current events.

Emily: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to mental health resources, particularly for youth?

Emily: Listen to what we have to say! Upon being involved with several school-wide mental health discussions and events, it is glaringly obvious that the student body is full of opinions on how mental health support systems can be reformed. Stop making excuses about how some health classes already touch on mental health, or that elementary or middle schoolers are too young to be exposed to mental illness education - this kind of ignorance is what leads so many students to feel completely alone. In order for mental health education and resources to be accessible to everyone, there must be systematic changes in education curriculums and funding. I want to see lawmakers walk into a school and stop a random student and really take the time to ask them what they want to see changed. The thoughts and suggestions are there - we’re screaming for improvement and waiting for someone to give us a platform and listen.

Emily: How do you think your mental health journey has been affected as being a Chinese-American? How has your family reacted to your journey and to your advocacy?

Emily: Being Chinese-American has played a large role in my mental health journey because I was raised to understand mental health very differently than how I think of it now. I was taught to believe that people that had mental illnesses were monsters and that I needed to just stop thinking about my emotional struggles and they would go away. I always believed I was doing something wrong when I continued to struggle in spite of this mentality and my anxiety would build every time I tried to ignore it. I cannot blame such an ignorant perception of mental health entirely on being Chinese or on my parents’ drastically different upbringing, but I think that both cultural and generational differences play a part in it. My parents were initially extremely embarrassed that I wasn’t “normal”, and they had a difficult time accepting that I needed to seek help by going to therapy and taking medication. However, throughout the years they have done their best to support me and I am appreciative of the small progress they have made, though there is still a long way to go before we see eye to eye about mental health. I now understand some of the complexities when mental health overlaps with cultural identity, and, as I’m able to reach more people of different backgrounds, I hope to further explore how our varied coming-of-age experiences shape our perceptions of mental health.

Emily: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Emily: I think a big question in my mind is how Sophrosyne will continue to operate after we all go to college, just because Sophia, Yuliana and I are all current seniors. My goal is to bring Sophrosyne to wherever I end up going because mental health education and advocacy extends far beyond the scope of our high school. I hope that the increased independence of college will allow me to take more initiative such as speaking directly to lawmakers.

Emily: What advice would you give to someone struggling with their mental health? Are there any resources you can recommend?

Emily: I see you, and your thoughts are valid. It’s okay to feel scared or overwhelmed or hopeless, but the strength is in you, even if you can’t see it. What helps me is trying to focus on getting through the next hour, and then the next, one at a time. Pick one thing you live for, no matter how small, and sit with it. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak or incompetent, because battling mental illness is incomprehensibly difficult. I’m here to talk if you need someone to listen as are so many others - please don’t be ashamed of yourself.

Emily: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Emily: You have every ability in you to make an impact in the world! A single person can instill widespread change with enough passion and grit, and the mental health community is a beautiful place to start. Aside from being a mental health advocate I’m just a normal high schooler who loves to bake cupcakes and watch movies and talk on the phone with friends until we’re accidentally awake for sunrise. Please don’t let your doubt or hesitation stop you for making a change!

MEREDITH HUTTON

@meresadvice101

She/Her/Hers

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MKM's Mental Health team director Divya Malhotra spoke with Meredith Hutton, a 16-year-old mental health activist from Ontario, Canada. They talked about her Instagram account @meresadvice101, her personal and family's experiences with mental health, and the importance of self-love.

Divya: How old are you, what are your pronouns, and where are you from? Tell us a little bit about you.

Meredith: I am 16 years old, my pronouns are she/her and I am from Ontario Canada. I love to listen to music and write poetry. I have four older brothers, I am the only girl!

Divya: What inspired you to start your Instagram account @meresadvice101

Meredith: Many factors influenced my motivation to start my instagram account. I think the first and most prominent was the fact that I was living with an abusive, alcoholic, narcissistic father. My childhood broke me and created the sharpest wounds, but I wanted to rise above this and help others.. I had a lot of stuff going on in my home life and a lot of bad thoughts in my head. I went to school every day of grade 8 and 9 waiting for people to just notice. All I wanted was one of my friends to ask me if I was okay, because it felt like my world was collapsing on me. No one noticed, it felt like no one cared. That was when I decided it was important that no one feels like that. I want people to know that I see them, I see that they haven't been feeling like themselves lately and I stand with them. I notice and I want to help. . Mental health has always been an issue in my family. My older brother suffers from depression and at the time when he was really struggling I never understood why. So, another motivation for starting my account was just the lack of information I feel teens have on mental health. If I had better understood the symptoms of all mental illness (not just anxiety and depression), I could’ve better helped myself, my peers and more people could’ve helped me. In my videos I talk about everyday struggles I face and maybe some others face, I think that mental health is a continuum and whether or not you have a mental illness you should be doing things to help your well-being, so that’s what I’m trying to do with my account. Lastly, I often feel like a burden when I reach out to my friends for help, that is why I wanted to give a space where people could not know me in real life but I could listen to their problems and provide advice if they want.

Divya: What have been some drawbacks whilst running your advice account?

Meredith: With everything comes good and bad, some drawbacks whilst running my account are: sometimes I forget to take care of myself, and I have also gotten bullied for it. Sometimes I try to deflect from my problems and focus on other people. This is a coping mechanism for me, but not a good one. It makes my glass become almost empty because I am pouring it into others. I have combatted this by truly learning the meaning of self-care and self-love. Self-love is being able to love and respect yourself enough to say, I need to take a break, I can’t be there for this person right now, I need to address what I am feeling. A couple kids in my grade made fun of my account. For some people, mental health is still a taboo topic and I guess they were uncomfortable.Words are just words and I’m doing something I love. In order to break down the stigma, there needs to be uncomfortableness! People should be uncomfortable, that is where change lies.

Divya: What was the response you received from your community when you first started?

Meredith: I have gotten continuous support from the community and it feels like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It is truly amazing and it warms my heart. Many people were happy with what I was doing. Once I started sharing my story many people around the community reached out to me who had similar stories. This was so powerful for me. I didn’t realize how many people struggled with similar things and this made me feel less alone. Last year in my community I had the privilege of being able to share my story with 70 people in the park at a Bridges Of Hope event. It was life changing.  

Divya: What has been your favourite part about advocating for teen mental health?

Meredith: My favourite part about advocating for teen mental health is the amount of teens in my community and around the world that once they saw this account, they realized I was a safe space and they could come to me. It was overwhelming how many teens opened up to me and continue to. At my age, people feel like you can’t trust a lot of people but its almost like this account proved my trust and that made people want to come to me. I feel honoured when people open up to me. 

Divya: If you had one message you could tell everyone in the world, what would it be? 

Meredith: If I had one message I could tell everyone its: please check up on your peers and the people in your life, ask them if they’re okay. Most importantly check up on the people who have the biggest smiles.

Divya: Do you have any advice for our readers about their mental health?

Meredith: To the readers, to whatever you’re struggling with, I am truly sorry. I wish I could take the pain away. Just remember there is a lesson to be learned from this. I know it doesn’t make sense now. Reaching out for help is the best decision you can make. And when you’re ready, sharing your story can help so many. Growth is not linear, yes there is going to be bumps in the road but remember that whatever goes down must come up. It is the law of the universe that it will get better.

Divya: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to mental health and it's stigma, especially within teenagers?

Meredith: I think the lack of help for high school students is a big problem. Of course we are fortunate to have guidance councilors but that is simply not enough. The lack of information and tools we have is alarming.  We hear terms like self-care and self-love but no idea how to do it. I think we need to change the education about mental health, if we learned more about it in school it would reduce the stigma, a lot of stigma comes from misunderstanding. So first, we must properly educate.

Divya: Are there any current  projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Meredith: I have no current projects I am working on but I am always in the search of new opportunities so please contact me! I would love to run some sort of mental health event in the future.

MEREDITH HUTTON

@meresadvice101

She/Her/Hers

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MKM's Mental Health team director Divya Malhotra spoke with Meredith Hutton, a 16-year-old mental health activist from Ontario, Canada. They talked about her Instagram account @meresadvice101, her personal and family's experiences with mental health, and the importance of self-love.

Divya: How old are you, what are your pronouns, and where are you from? Tell us a little bit about you.

Meredith: I am 16 years old, my pronouns are she/her and I am from Ontario Canada. I love to listen to music and write poetry. I have four older brothers, I am the only girl!

Divya: What inspired you to start your Instagram account @meresadvice101

Meredith: Many factors influenced my motivation to start my instagram account. I think the first and most prominent was the fact that I was living with an abusive, alcoholic, narcissistic father. My childhood broke me and created the sharpest wounds, but I wanted to rise above this and help others.. I had a lot of stuff going on in my home life and a lot of bad thoughts in my head. I went to school every day of grade 8 and 9 waiting for people to just notice. All I wanted was one of my friends to ask me if I was okay, because it felt like my world was collapsing on me. No one noticed, it felt like no one cared. That was when I decided it was important that no one feels like that. I want people to know that I see them, I see that they haven't been feeling like themselves lately and I stand with them. I notice and I want to help. . Mental health has always been an issue in my family. My older brother suffers from depression and at the time when he was really struggling I never understood why. So, another motivation for starting my account was just the lack of information I feel teens have on mental health. If I had better understood the symptoms of all mental illness (not just anxiety and depression), I could’ve better helped myself, my peers and more people could’ve helped me. In my videos I talk about everyday struggles I face and maybe some others face, I think that mental health is a continuum and whether or not you have a mental illness you should be doing things to help your well-being, so that’s what I’m trying to do with my account. Lastly, I often feel like a burden when I reach out to my friends for help, that is why I wanted to give a space where people could not know me in real life but I could listen to their problems and provide advice if they want.

Divya: What have been some drawbacks whilst running your advice account?

Meredith: With everything comes good and bad, some drawbacks whilst running my account are: sometimes I forget to take care of myself, and I have also gotten bullied for it. Sometimes I try to deflect from my problems and focus on other people. This is a coping mechanism for me, but not a good one. It makes my glass become almost empty because I am pouring it into others. I have combatted this by truly learning the meaning of self-care and self-love. Self-love is being able to love and respect yourself enough to say, I need to take a break, I can’t be there for this person right now, I need to address what I am feeling. A couple kids in my grade made fun of my account. For some people, mental health is still a taboo topic and I guess they were uncomfortable.Words are just words and I’m doing something I love. In order to break down the stigma, there needs to be uncomfortableness! People should be uncomfortable, that is where change lies.

Divya: What was the response you received from your community when you first started?

Meredith: I have gotten continuous support from the community and it feels like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It is truly amazing and it warms my heart. Many people were happy with what I was doing. Once I started sharing my story many people around the community reached out to me who had similar stories. This was so powerful for me. I didn’t realize how many people struggled with similar things and this made me feel less alone. Last year in my community I had the privilege of being able to share my story with 70 people in the park at a Bridges Of Hope event. It was life changing.  

Divya: What has been your favourite part about advocating for teen mental health?

Meredith: My favourite part about advocating for teen mental health is the amount of teens in my community and around the world that once they saw this account, they realized I was a safe space and they could come to me. It was overwhelming how many teens opened up to me and continue to. At my age, people feel like you can’t trust a lot of people but its almost like this account proved my trust and that made people want to come to me. I feel honoured when people open up to me. 

Divya: If you had one message you could tell everyone in the world, what would it be? 

Meredith: If I had one message I could tell everyone its: please check up on your peers and the people in your life, ask them if they’re okay. Most importantly check up on the people who have the biggest smiles.

Divya: Do you have any advice for our readers about their mental health?

Meredith: To the readers, to whatever you’re struggling with, I am truly sorry. I wish I could take the pain away. Just remember there is a lesson to be learned from this. I know it doesn’t make sense now. Reaching out for help is the best decision you can make. And when you’re ready, sharing your story can help so many. Growth is not linear, yes there is going to be bumps in the road but remember that whatever goes down must come up. It is the law of the universe that it will get better.

Divya: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to mental health and it's stigma, especially within teenagers?

Meredith: I think the lack of help for high school students is a big problem. Of course we are fortunate to have guidance councilors but that is simply not enough. The lack of information and tools we have is alarming.  We hear terms like self-care and self-love but no idea how to do it. I think we need to change the education about mental health, if we learned more about it in school it would reduce the stigma, a lot of stigma comes from misunderstanding. So first, we must properly educate.

Divya: Are there any current  projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Meredith: I have no current projects I am working on but I am always in the search of new opportunities so please contact me! I would love to run some sort of mental health event in the future.

KELLY HAMILTON

@runningoverkelly

She/Her/Hers

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TW: ED, self-harm

 

MKM's previous Mental Health team director Emily Weinberg spoke with Kelly Hamilton, a 16-year-old mental health activist from LA, CA. They talked about her social media presence on Instagram and Tiktok, her experience with mental health, and how her passion for running sparked her new positive outlook on life.

Emily: I would like to talk to you more about your work on mental health advocacy, particularly through your social media presence. I love your instagram @runningoverkelly and your TikToks! What gave you the inspiration to start making videos about your mental health journey? Have you gotten support in return? What have been people’s reactions?

Kelly: I started my instagram account because I wanted a community that can help me recover from my eating disorder, my original plan was to delete this account after I recovered. When I got to know so many of the people online and hear about them and their stories, I got inspired to share more and support others dealing with mental health struggles. Even though I’m literally kinda irrelevant and have only 500 followers, many girls DM me and tell me that they are encouraged by my journey and are working to reclaim their life. I don’t really understand the TikTok algorithm, when I took 3 months off of running, I had nothing else to do so I made tik toks and started a youtube channel. I don’t really post that much on my youtube channel because #juniorseason, but I try to post more on tiktok. Actually no one really watches my tiktok and I don’t understand the tiktok algorithm, so I decided to post the videos on instagram and hope that more people can see it. I experimented with posting many things, fashion, transition, vlogs, but what really stuck with me was advocating for mental health awareness and my sport. I just have so many ideas and so much that I want to talk about when it comes to these two. People are so sweet and I love that they think I’m funny, I want to be entertaining and not trigger anyone so it’s hard to find the balance. The worst thing that I experienced on instagram was a thinspo page following me, so I blocked. it hahaha. Also creepy dudes do be asking my if I wanted a sugar daddy:>

Emily: If you feel comfortable, what has been your experience with mental health? How has it affected your life for the better / for the worse?

Kelly: Honesty! I never realized that I had a mental health problem ever since I was little. The eating disorder came later in life but looking back, I was definitely not at a healthy place mentaliy. I did engage in self-harm in sixth grade when my parents left me with a homestay family, for a time period I had mental breakdown almost every night and missed them so much. In my teenage years, they were rarely with me. I stopped self-harm in eighth grade because I found running as a way to cope with my emotions and it worked wonderfully. At this time I also feel like everything is falling apart so I wanted control, I wanted something to be constant and I made it my weight. I thought that if I had the perfect body, then my life would be good. My mental health problems helped me find the sport I loved, but it also brought me down a vicious cycle. I don’t regret any of it because now I get to talk about it and help others.

Emily: How has running impacted your mental health? Has it been a method of catharsis or has it made anything more difficult?

Kelly: In the beginning, running helped so much with coping my emotions, I met really great people, but I quickly lost control in wanting to look thinner because one person commented on how my body “looked like an athlete’s body.” This comment really triggered everything that happened. I’ve always been comparing my body to other people since I was like 6, but I didn’t start to change my body before that because no one made any negative comments about it. Saying that I looked like an athlete was probably not a negative comment either, but I took it the wrong way. Soon, running for pure enjoyment became running to burn calories and lose weight. However, it definitely helped me more because the mantra that I always told myself when I wanted to give up recovery is “I’m a runner.” Wanting to run again with happiness and joy is what really pushed me to recover.

Emily: To you, has mental health advocacy been impacted by COVID? How do you think mental health has changed throughout 2020? Is there more urgency to push mental wellness?

Kelly: Definitely, people are starting to realize the importance of having a community for mental health. There can be subcategories for different mental health struggles but I’m so happy to see more and more resources pop up. COVID slowed everything down and for a while, it even put things to a pause. This time period allowed for many people to take care of their mind and boy, to work on both physical and mental health. For most of the 16 years of my life, I had never been so relaxed and anxious at the same time. People really took this time to rewind and rediscover themselves, they finally dug up old problems and started to deal with them one by one. All the things that have been building up in their mind, they can finally declutter. The year of 2020 is a critical period for mental health awareness because especially right now at a period of isolation, it’s so important to get help and stay connected. The thing that helped me the most during recovery was knowing that I’m not alone and people are going through the same thing. Due to the fact that everything is on the internet now, people are more likely to share about their struggles and talk about the things that they refuse to talk about in person. I don’t think that there should be an urgency to push mental wellness because it can lead to misleading facts being spread and for people to romanticize this topic. Mental health is serious and I see so many younger people labeling themselves just because apparently it’s cool to have anxiety, or depression. People have asked me how to develop anorexia and to which I replied “trust me, you do not want to go there.”  Joking about mental health and making jokes on mental health to make it more relatable to people are two very different things. Many people don’t realize that it’s really not quirky or cool to have mental problems.

Emily: What was the response surrounding your efforts from your community and your peers? Did you find that people were uncomfortable when you started talking about your mental health?

Kelly: I have a really small community which means that everyone is so supportive and we are literally life friends. They encourage me when I have a bad day, we talk about how much diet culture sucks and sometimes we gossip about things:) like how triggering family members can be. I haven’t yet gotten anything that’s negative, most people really enjoy what I post and I’m really glad. 

Emily: What do you think our society needs to do better when it comes to mental health resources, particularly for youth?

Kelly: WE NEED TO STOP SAYING THAT “IT'S JUST A PHASE.” This is so important because many adults think that health is just physical health, but that’s simply not true. Mental health can very much affect physical health. I also think that we should normalize people to have a therapist because it’s the same as having a family doctor. Everyone will deal with stress at some point of their life and it’s important to talk about it with a profession so it doesn’t spiral into something out of control. For younger children, teenagers, we need to tell them that having mental health struggles is completely normal and they shouldn’t hide it, they should be encouraged to talk about it. Parents often ignore the seeds of mental issues, which can be planted at a very young age, this can affect both their kids’ physical and mental health in the future. 

Emily: How has your family reacted to your mental health journey and advocacy work? Are they supportive?

Kelly: My family is not supportive, my parents are, but my biological mother who I live with right now thinks that mental health problems happen with people who are bored out of their mind. She doesn't understand the intoxicating thoughts that race through my head when I have a piece of bread. However, she also has mental health problems that she refused to face, she’s scared to face it because the entire world is built upon her mental problems. This is the reason we should pay attention to kid’s mental health, it’s so much easier to fix on thought than to deconstruct a whole belief system. I’m not mad at her, because I pity her and I feel sad for her.

Emily: What is the future for your mental health advocacy? Are there more projects you plan on exploring in the future related to mental health?

Kelly: I hope that I can continue to post more about it and be helpful on instagram, which, to be honest, I’m not super motivated to do because I don’t have a following, therefore I don’t consider it rewarding. But the most important thing is to help as many people as I could.  I used to get caught up in how many followers and likes i get, but now i just want to be real and talk about what inspires me and hope to inspire others. In the future when I have more time, I hope that I can really work on my youtube channel and go into detail about mental health and promoting health body image and spreading eating disorder awareness.

Emily: What advice would you give to someone struggling with their mental health? Are there any resources you can recommend?

Kelly: You need to talk to a professional. I know that you think you’re capable and strong, I believe that you’re capable and strong, but you cannot heal in the same place you got hurt. You cannot talk to yourself and be trapped into your own thoughts. You need to open up and let people who know what they’re doing to guide you. You need an eating disorder dietitian, you need a therapist, you need a community and a support group, you need to surround yourself with people who love and support you. Also, what really helped me was listening to podcasts that advocate for mental health awareness. Some podcasts that I love are, realpad by victoria garrick, take the cake with kate noel and Mary’s cup of tea. 

SHRUTHI ARAVIDAN

@vitality.volunteer.s

Sher/Her/Hers

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MKM's new Mental Health team director Divya Malhotra spoke with Shruthi Aravidan, a 17-year-old mental health activist from Austin, TX. They talked about her work with Vitality Volunteers and she contributed some of her thoughts about mental health.

Divya: What inspired you to start Vitality Volunteers? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Shruthi: A number of events really, but in general, I wanted to help improve the health and wellness of communities by helping organizations with their workload. I’ve always been involved in my community and creating Vitality Volunteers seemed like the perfect opportunity to create a passion project that would help improve health in communities and engage more people in the initiative.

Divya: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to mental health care?

Shruthi: Acceptance and normalization. Mental health needs to be discussed more in schools. Many classes avoid the subject all together.

Divya: What do you envision when you think about the future of Vitality Volunteers?

Shruthi: Contributing to a future where everyone has an equal access to healthcare.

Divya: What has been your favourite part of founding your organization?

Shruthi: Connecting with people! I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing people in global communities I never would have had the opportunity to meet

Divya: In your journey of advocating for mental health, what are some challenges your facing?

Shruthi: My organization doesn’t directly work with mental health, but I believe mental health is just as important as physical health.

Divya: Who are some role models or activists you look up to?

Shruthi: Audrey Pe is such an amazing inspiration! The work she does motivates me everyday. My volunteers and the people I work with through my partnering organizations are all committed to serving communities. I consider them to be amazing role models and activists.

SOPHIA SULLIVAN

@sophiasullivan

She/Her/Hers

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MKM Mental Health team director Emily Weinberg spoke with Sophia Sullivan, an 18-year-old mental health activist living in Boston, MA. They talked about her work with Sophrosyne, her advocacy through social media and art, and the impact of COVID-19 on mental health.

Emily: Through working with you on Sophrosyne, I know that you’re really passionate about mental health advocacy! Can you tell the readers more about what you do at Sophrosyne? Why is Sophrosyne important to you?

Sophia: My involvement with Sophrosyne has shown me the importance of having a secure support system. In Sophrosyne, I surround myself with people who share my mission, and together we help people find what is truly meaningful to them. Fighting for something I am truly passionate about has not only made me a stronger, more confident individual but has also pushed me outside my comfort zone. As Communications Director, I've had the opportunity to work with many different kinds of people, and I've become more interested in the ways both individuals and society relate to mental health. We design clothing and jewelry to spark conversation among those wearing the items, and maintain an Instagram profile with original content about mental health.

Emily: I would like to talk to you more about your work on mental health advocacy, particularly through social media and art! To you, what makes these mediums essential for mental health advocacy?

Sophia: Social media can be used to raise awareness about important issues because essentially everyone, especially the younger generations, uses various platforms as means of entertainment or education. Being in high school, I consider myself very attuned to what content sparks peoples’ interests and grabs their attention. Using this knowledge, I create infographics that are visually appealing and not covered in writing to encourage viewers to engage in our content. One of my goals is to have viewers come across our posts and either be reminded of the importance of self-care, educated on the alarming statistics about mental health accessibility, or more aware of the phrases they use when discussing mental illnesses.

Emily: If you feel comfortable, what has been your experience with mental health? How has it affected your life for the better / for the worse?

Sophia: When I entered highschool as a freshman, I was caught up in the pressure of attaining excellence in all areas of my life. I would consider myself a perfectionist at the time, and the academic competition made me hold high expectations for myself. Being at high school, I observed the trade off between performance and stress, along with balance and emotional support, which compelled me to help those who have felt that pressure the most. Throughout my time at LHS, I matured very much because I grew more confident and began to take pride in all of my decisions. I translated my advice to my friends and classmates because I know that everyone can use some reassurance and support when they feel overwhelmed. I like to tell my friends that no matter what anyone does, people will inherently judge them, so they should do what suits them and not be insecure about their choices. I believe looking at life with that in mind encourages people to be more independent and fulfilled. It can be difficult to take a step back and realize that the world has so much to offer in a vast array of academic and creative fields, but creating your own path and discovering your passions is definitely beneficial for your future.

Emily: How do you feel social media has impacted mental health and advocacy surrounding it? Has it been beneficial or detrimental? Perhaps both?

Sophia: You can look at it both ways: social media is an incredible asset to our lives, allowing us to learn and connect with people, but it is also capable of making us feel lonely, depressed, and upset. Creators, influencers, and even our classmates and friends can make it seem like their lives are “perfect” from the content they choose to share. However, we must be reminded that this is not the case, and everyone is in fact struggling with their own battles behind the screens we look at to analyze our behavior and compare ourselves. Creating social media platforms dedicated to raising awareness about mental health is a step in the right direction: being reminded to take care of yourself and your loved ones is imperative to live a healthier life, as we often look over these reminders and forget to focus on our own feelings.

Emily: To you, has mental health advocacy been impacted by COVID? Is there a higher stress to push mental health support in schools or communities? If so, how can we build up momentum?

Sophia: The coronavirus has rendered heightened emotions over numerous issues, such as finances, physical health, and emotional wellbeing. During these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever to provide the necessary resources to those struggling with their mental health. To build up momentum to push mental health support in schools and communities, we must first be educated on the severity of the issue, and then work together to implement ways we can improve our mental health in our everyday lives. It is most likely that you or someone you know is struggling, so if we take our experiences on the topic and encourage others to speak up, we can collectively launch a movement to break the stigma and make the government fund programs and services aimed at improving our mental health.

Emily: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similar-minded mental health activists who were supportive and who you’ve connected with?

Sophia: Overall, everyone I told about my involvement with Sophrosyne was impressed and happy that I was working on something to make the world a better place

Emily: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to mental health resources, particularly for youth?

Sophia: I propose that it’s the government’s responsibility to administer grant programs that serve to help individuals suffering with their mental health. Although government grants are funded by tax dollars, this is a cause where the money would be well-spent because it lies in the public interest. We must receive funding for programs to inform people at a young age about how to take care of their mental health. As individuals, we must be educated on the signs that someone might be struggling so we can unequivocally support our community by reaching out to those who are. The demand for services is extremely high, and these services are needed to help people access resources for their mental health.

Emily: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Sophia: When I go to college, I plan on continuing to work for nonprofits and raising awareness about pressing issues society faces in these times.

Emily: What advice would you give to someone struggling with their mental health? Are there any resources you can recommend?

Sophia: Know that you aren’t alone, and you’re not “weak” to reach out for health. Know that there are so many people who do care about you and want you to succeed, even when you feel as though it’s impossible.

MICHAEL BACHMANN

@

He/His/Him

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MKM Mental Health team member Divya Malhotra spoke with Michael Bachmann, a 15-year-old mental health activist living in North Haven, CT. They talked about his personal struggles with OCD, anxiety, and depression as well as the challenges he faced along his journey.

*TW: OCD, anxiety, depression

Divya: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to mental health?

Michael: I really think that our lawmakers need to do a better job of recognizing the need for attention to mental health in our public schools. They desperately need to devote more money to new research and technology in the communities. More importantly, keep our people informed about mental health and mental illnesses. We need a politician who will keep
mental health a consistent talking point for the governors, senators, representatives, political figures, and lawmakers of our country. Most mental health providers do not participate with commercial insurance companies because of all of the hassle of reimbursement. Every patient is unique and paying out of network causes undue stress on the families and patients with ultimately higher costs to the patient and less reimbursement. My desire is to make access to therapy a lot easier and stop limiting medicine to those who can only afford it. Our communities should put together more walks and fundraisers for Mental Health to raise money and awareness. This will help increase awareness and decrease the stigma associated with it.
Overall, accept that mental illness in our society is a pressing issue and put forth legislation that would improve that aspect of our lives.

Divya: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Michael: It is vital to connect with the younger souls of our society because the power of our modern-day communication system is unmatched. The speed at which we can communicate ideas with one another is mind-blowing. And it is so important that us younger people share our ideas, our feelings, and our experiences because that matters just as much
as the opinions of our elders; if not more. There are billions of people out there and the younger voices of society so eagerly get swept under the rug or ignored, simply because of our age. All of which are dealing with their own unique situation. Every human on this planet has so much value to bring to others, they just have to find the right way to do it. Imagine all the knowledge you can take in! The meaning you can bring to another person’s life, by simply sharing your experiences, is honesty incredible.

Divya: What is your favorite part of running a personal blog about mental health?

Michael: The best part of having this blog is definitely helping others get through problems and simply just being there for them because I knew how challenging it was to go through all of my problems alone.

Divya: When starting out your account, what challenges did you face? What inspired you to create this account?

Michael: When I first started this account I faced a lot of self-doubts, it was my first step away from the crowd. I’m not gonna lie it was pretty tough in the beginning to keep reassuring myself that all of this was worth it. Obviously it’s not the “norm” for a 15-year-old to step away from his personal Instagram to start a blog where I am advocating for mental health. But I knew inside that this was going to be worth it, I had a vision for what I was going to do and no one was going to alter that. I created this account because I wanted to give the people something I didn’t have while I was suffering through my worst times. I was going to be there for the people who didn’t have anyone to lean towards during their toughest days.

Divya: What inspired you to start your blog?

Michael: I was inspired to create my blog because when I was going through some of my worst times, I felt alone and hopeless. I couldn’t relate to anyone, not even my own parents. I was battling a war in my head, I wouldn’t even leave my room. But I was able to relate deeply with a select few social media influencers who put their story out there and devoted their time to spreading kindness and bring value to others. They were dedicated to giving back. And they did just that. Now it’s my turn to give back. Their impact was so great onto me, that I feel the need to continue it and make it a tradition.

Divya: Who are your role models?

Michael: My Role model is Gary Vaynerchuk. "Kindness is the answer!"

Divya: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Michael: I hope to create a new social media platform that will be free and available across the world. But this isn’t just all the social media we see today surrounded around drama, fake news, and negativity... this new platform will embrace mental
illness and celebrate anyone, no matter what you look like, your gender, your race, or your religion! I’m not worried about the # of Followers, Likes or Comments in my “support group”. My goal is to increase awareness, share my experiences, show
empathy, increase communication, and provide guidance and support. And lastly, you can take advice someone has given you and share it for many more to see. I hope to create multiple mental health foundations, each pinpointing a certain issue. The first foundation will be created with the younger voices of our world in mind. It will fund and sponsor as many young activists and advocates of spreading positivity and fight the negative. I see the power of youth voices and they must be highlighted.

Divya: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Michael: To all the young people out there... “If you have an idea that you genuinely think is good, don’t let some idiot talk you out of it.” ~Stan Lee

JULISSA MINAYA

@julissas.recovery​

She/Her/Hers

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MKM Mental Health team member Claire Hedberg spoke with Julissa Minaya, a 15-year-old mental health activist living in the USA. They talked about her personal struggles with E.D and her advocacy following her journey.

*TW: E.D

Claire: Talk about your relationship with food, how did you start your recovery account?

Julissa: I started it back in March. I had been following recovery accounts for a really long time since I started going to therapy. I was really inspired to make my own. I was scared to make one because I didn’t want to make one because I was really shameful. I linked it to my personal account and told people! I found more recovery accounts and that was how I started growing. 

In addition, I saw white people talk about their struggles. I  don’t feel represented in the recovery community. Eating disorders don’t discriminate and you don’t have to look like you have one. 

Claire: With COVID-19, how do you think people can help those who are recovering?

Julissa: Staying connected and reaching out to people. Be encouraging and supportive. Just say that you appreciate your content and that you are there for them. Support is always good, but especially now it can be utilized well nowadays. Let them know that you are always there.

Claire: What is something you think society misunderstands about eating disorders and recovery?

Julissa: They misunderstand that eating disorders are a choice. They think only thin people can have them. Restricting etc. is normalized. Disordered behaviors shouldn’t be normalized. 

Claire: I saw on your story and I saw the video about a 4-year-olds weight loss transformation? What was your reaction to that type of content?

Julissa: It is one thing to be normalized in adults. When your child their body is bad and that they should change it that is when it can become dangerous. 

For someone who doesn’t have health problems, they might be like whatever. For someone who is predisposed, that might start something that could become dangerous. No matter what you do you should be educated about eating disorders. 

Claire: What advice would you give someone who is just starting to recover or people who aren’t yet started?

Julissa: For someone who is starting, it is really really difficult. Your worst days in recovery are still going to be your best days in relapse. It is going to help you in the long run. No matter what size you are your recovery and eating disorder is still valid. Think about all of the things your eating disorder is taking away from you. Think about all the things you could gain back. Your full potential starts within. You can’t gain success if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Having an eating disorder is not taking care of yourself. 

Claire: Are there issues that really intersect with recovery and eating disorders?

Julissa: Things like fatphobia definitely intersect. No matter what eating disorder it is there is a root belief that your body is not enough. That comes with fatphobia. That comes with diet culture. It really overlaps with fatphobia. Our society doesn’t think that fat people are beautiful and don’t deserve worth and praise.

Claire: Are there any current activism projects that you are working on, or plans for the future that you would like to talk about?

Julissa: I want to start a podcast, but that is something for the future. I definitely will look into this in the future. I would love this and to have people on there and just talk about recovery etc. 

Claire: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Julissa: Don’t hold back on whatever issue you want to talk about. Stand your truth. If you see someone doing something bad point it out. You can’t change the world if you are feeling judged. People who are fearful of judgment don’t change the world. Let go of the fear component. 

Claire: What is your hope for the future, mental health, and more? What are your activism goals?

Julissa: My hope for recovery is that I am able to inspire people with my recovery. I want to be a therapist and I know I can only do that when I am recovered. I am fully free from food one day. Accomplishing all the things I want to do. Going to college, having a family, becoming a therapist, I want to say I recovered and it was really hard but I did. 

ALLISON GUREVICH

@lifebeyond_ocd

She/Her/Hers

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MKM Mental Health team member Divya Malhotra spoke with Allison Gurevich, a 15-year-old mental health activist living in NYC. They talked about her personal struggles with OCD and E.D and her advocacy following her journey.

*TW: OCD, E.D

Divya: In your journey of advocating for mental health, what are some challenges you've come across?

Allison: I started advocating for mental health on Instagram about a year ago. During my third OCD conference, I began my OCD and mental health advocacy Instagram account. Some challenges I have come across while advocating, are people who don’t believe that mental illnesses are a real problem, and believe people should just get over it. Usually, I try to inform them about mental illnesses, but if they are unwilling to accept the information, I stop trying and I don’t take it to heart. You can advocate, but you can’t change someone’s beliefs if they are unwilling to accept it. 

 

Divya:  What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to mental health awareness?

Allison: I think our society needs to do better at raising awareness about mental health, especially those mental illnesses that are unheard of. I think society should especially be more aware of OCD. There is a lot of stigma about OCD being all about cleaning and organizing. OCD is a disorder where you get intrusive thoughts or images and do compulsive behavior (physically or mentally) to get rid of the anxiety and fear. The difference between intrusive thoughts and images in a person with OCD, and a person without OCD, is that people with OCD have intrusive thoughts and images that stick with them. They don’t go away. They stick with them, and compulsions are the only way to make them go away immediately. 

Divya: In the mental health world, one of the biggest issues we face is stigma. How do you personally respond to stigma?

Allison:  I respond to stigma by trying to educate people about mental illnesses. Some people don’t believe and/or care about what I say to them, so I stop talking to them about it and switch the conversation because I can’t change someone if they don’t want to change.  

Divya: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

 

Allison: I am currently not working on any activism projects.

 

Divya: As you know, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on most of the population's mental health across the globe, as a mental health advocate, what advice would you give to someone struggling with their mental health?

Allison: Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on most people’s mental health. As a mental health advocate, my advice is to take time for yourself to practice self-care. Take the time to do activities you enjoy. You can reach out to someone you trust if you are struggling. And if you are not struggling, remember everyone reacts to stressful situations differently and your feelings are valid no matter what your feeling. 

Divya: When researching about you I came across your documentary about OCD, which was amazing and quite emotional if I could add, how was your personal experience filming it? Did you learn anything new by taking part in this project?

Allison: I participated in a documentary about OCD on YouTube called “Coping With Severe OCD as a Teenager.” Being filmed for this documentary was fun, and anxiety-provoking. I was also very excited and scared to see the documentary after it was made. I want to educate people about OCD, and to let people with OCD know that they’re not alone.

Divya: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Allison: Some advice I would give to someone who wants to speak out about mental health is, not everyone will be willing to accept information about mental health. And not everyone will care. But don’t let those people make you stop trying to advocate about mental health. You also don’t have to share your personal story if you are not comfortable with it. Being a mental health advocate does not mean you need to share your story. 

Divya: What is your favorite part about being a mental health advocate?

Allison: My favorite part about being a mental health advocate is knowing I’m helping change the world and break the stigma about mental health. I also love the mental health community around me on Instagram. Everyone in the mental health community are so supportive. 

IZZY EBDON

@izzyeb.16

She/Her/Hers

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MKM Mental Health team member Divya Malhotra spoke with Izzy Ebdon, a 19-year-old mental health activist from Somerset, London. They talked about her personal struggles with OCD, her work with OCD Advocated United, mental health stigma.

*TW: OCD

Divya: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work like your work with OCD Advocated United! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Izzy: Thank you! What really got me involved was when I realised just how often people use OCD as an adjective. I mean, I used to do it myself because I just didn’t know what OCD was but now that I have some pretty intense experience with it I realise that saying “I’m so OCD” because you like your pens in order just isn’t what OCD is about. I just wanted to help educate people and use my story to how just how debilitating OCD can be. I got more involved with general mental health advocacy when I became part of the wellbeing committee at my sixth form. It allowed me to raise money for mental health charities and give assemblies about managing mental health and it just showed me how I could make a difference in small ways.

 

Divya:  What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Izzy: There are so many ways you can make a difference. Social media is such a powerful tool, I’ve always struggled being open with my family but I’ve been trying to start small by sharing things on Facebook about OCD and adding comments about how they relate to my life. There are loads of charities where you can write blog posts about your struggles and provide inspiration for others. I’m a young ambassador for OCD-UK and that offers loads of opportunities for outreach. The possibilities are endless!

Divya: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future? 

Izzy:  I’d really like to help set up an OCD support group at my university. I know that having a group of people who understand my struggles welly helps me and I’d love to help provide that for other people.  

Divya: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to mental health in your country?

 

Izzy: Funding. In England in 2018 less than 1% of the overall National Health Service budget went to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and only 8.7% of the total mental health budget goes towards helping under-18s. People often wait until they’re significantly unwell to get help and then end up on 3 month waiting lists, during which their mental health continues to suffer. Getting help early for any mental illness is important but unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, the system has failed people. At the end of the day, better funding for the mental health system would make so much difference to so many individuals.

 

Divya: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Izzy: There is power in numbers, if we can educate more people then we can hopefully help more people to understand the importance of looking after our mental health in the same way we do with out physical health. I think having young people connect with each other helps a lot because we all understand what it’s like to be young in this day and age. We all understand the impact of social media and how it can be a good and bad thing. I know how frustrating it can be to have adults refusing to take you seriously because you’re young and therefore “don’t know what you’re talking about” so I think if we can all have each other’s backs then we can go far.

Divya: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues like mental health stigma and OCD?

8. Who are some activists you look up to?

Izzy: All of my fellow OCD advocates on instagram are incredible. They inspire me in so many different ways and support me through ups and downs in recovery. Our joint instagram account, @ocd.advocates.united helps us all to share tips and inspiration for recovery and also helps to show people that they are never alone, no matter what they’re going through.

Divya: Who are some activists you look up to?

 

Izzy: Holly Bourne is an incredible author who advocates for mental health. Her book Am I Normal Yet? follows the story of a girl with OCD and it really resonated with me because it put into words some of the feelings I’d had for so long but could never say to anyone because I thought it was just me who had them. Because We Are Bad by Lily Bailey was another book that made me realise that I’m not the only one who has some of the thoughts that I felt plagued with. Reading stories like hers really helped me to stop feeling ashamed of my intrusive thoughts. Jameela Jamil is incredible in so many ways and I think everyone can resonate with her message. And of course, all my fellow OCD advocates inspire me in ways I can’t even begin to put into words.

Divya: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Izzy: Do it. Even something like telling a friend about your struggles can make a difference. Find charities and organisations that help people to speak out. Talk to your school about putting posters up or set up an email newsletter with tips on how to look after your mental health. Everything you do has a ripple effect and if you can even help one person then your time is definitely worthwhile.

MACY LEE

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MKM Mental Health team director Emily Weinberg spoke with Macy Lee, an 18-year-old mental health activist living in Northern California. They talked about her personal struggles, Talang Dalisay in her home country the Philippines, and My State of Mind that is located in her college town.

Emily: I would like to talk to you more about your work with student activism regarding mental health. What got you so involved? If you feel comfortable talking about it, was there something personal that made you want to speak up about mental health?

Macy: Mental health was always something close to my heart. My older brother has autism. I was exposed to people like him at a very young age and also learned how to take care of people like him. In middle school, I suffered from really bad anxiety. I hated socializing with other people and I internalized so many of my problems. A lot of it had to deal with self-image and going out of my comfort zone. With all of this accumulated, I guess you can say I developed a sense of understanding and maturity at a young age. When I was around fourteen (freshman year of high school) I wanted to change myself completely. That’s when I started my student activism. I knew mental health was something I wanted to learn more about and get involved in. I started volunteering in different organizations and charities in my area before I made my own initiative. 

 

Emily:  What was the response surrounding your advocacy from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded advocates who have been there throughout the experience? Has it been hard to balance a social life with your schoolwork as well as advocacy?

Macy: I noticed in the past that there weren’t a lot of youth-led organizations in the Philippines. When I started doing my first project for Talang Dalisay, I got my friends at school involved, and through that they were able to tell their friends about it and so on. The networking started with my small group of friends who wanted to support my mental health advocacy. I must say the response was amazing. In a span of two years, the organization grew from around 8-10 people helping me plan our first tennis charity tournament, to over 200+ members from all over the Philippines. I’m proud to say that everyone helping out in Talang Dalisay is similarly minded in the sense that we want to destigmatize the mental health scene in the country. It hasn’t been hard balancing social, school, and my advocacy life because they all intertwine at one point. The people I work within the school and in the organization are my friends. A lot of people from my high school were also involved in Talang Dalisay. They all mesh together. I just made sure to prioritize being a student first and advocate second - work-wise. I made sure to be a kind, open-minded person everyday - dealing with friends or people I simply don’t know. 

Emily: What has been your experience being a Filipino American mental health advocate? What drove you to start “Talang Dalisay”?

Macy:  As aforementioned, my experiences with my brother and dealing with my own anxiety helped drive me to start Talang Dalisay. I knew I wanted to spread awareness of mental health issues through my own personal experiences. I also wanted the youth to become more involved in it too since I noticed a great number of young people struggling with issues like this. 

 

I’ve only been living in America for a few months now ever since I moved to college. Nevertheless, I had a great experience being a mental health advocate here. I was surprised to find out that mental health issues are even more prevalent here than in the Philippines and Singapore. That’s why I wanted to start international branches of Talang Dalisay, which is My State of Mind that caters to all youth - people of all races, nationalities, gender, etc.

Emily:  Why is it important to you to make sure there is a representation for all different kinds of people to have representation when it comes to mental health?

 

Macy: Different people have different experiences. Different people have different perspectives. It’s important to have a diverse representation when it comes to mental health because it allows people to learn valuable things from each other. I believe in the idea that we should all teach and help each other through difficult times and give genuine advice stemming from personal experience. Through a diverse community of mental health advocates, change, and growth can definitely happen through this constant conversation and care. Learning about unique cultures and getting alongside people so disparate from you can help one become more open-minded and empathetic. Open-mindedness and empathy, in my opinion, are two of the most important things people truly need in a fast-paced, evolving society.

 

Emily: What has it been like to found and run your organizations of “My State of Mind” and “Talang Dalisay”? Is it difficult to manage running two organizations? What are the similarities and differences between the two?

Macy: Talang Dalisay is a registered non-profit in the Philippines. I founded Talang Dalisay when I was 15 years old. I was a sophomore in high school. My main goal for Talang Dalisay is really to focus on Filipino youth and grassroots, which is also why I named it in Tagalog. My State of Mind on the other hand is an international branch of Talang Dalisay. My State of Mind really took off when I went to college in the United States. I wanted to create an international initiative that could cater to an international youth audience. Currently, My State of Mind is in 7 countries worldwide and in 4 states in the US. Our growth has been great and I can’t wait to see the organization help more youth from all over the world. 

It hasn’t been so difficult managing the two organizations. The people I have been working alongside with in and out of the organization have been simply amazing. The team at Talang Dalisay and My State of Mind are some of the most kind and enthusiastic people I know. I never really felt like I was doing things on my own. I think as long as you have an open sense of communication, you won’t ever have a hard time when it comes to planning. The whole experience has been extremely fulfilling for me. All the work we’ve put was worth it. 

Emily: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Macy: My idea of change always starts internally. You have to always reevaluate yourself and see if you’re on the right track. Before I started my activism, I reevaluated myself for a very long time. I made a vision board of the person I wanted to be. I looked at the root of my problems and tried creating a solution for it. I talked to my parents and trusted friends constantly on what I needed to work on. After that, I started working on helping others around me. You can’t pour water from an empty glass. Never forget to help yourself first.

 

Young people in this era really need to know the difference between right and wrong. Young people need direction. Young people need to know that they are not alone. There is so much outside influence that could lead to young people resulting in different kinds of unwanted actions. With regards to mental health issues, some kids facing problems eventually result in depression, anxiety, and other disorders. Oftentimes these kids who result in these have no support or do not seek the help they need. Life should be faced with the help of others. This is why I think it’s important to connect with other young people. Activists or not, we all have one thing in common which is to help better the world as well as ourselves. Connecting with young people and sharing substantial things to each other will create a difference as it entices action and full participation in initiatives.

Emily: Are there any current projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

 

Macy: Yes! We have so many exciting projects in store for My State of Mind. Our most recent event was with the UC Davis Mental Health Initiative. Our event was a success as we had a workshop event and tabling! Other than that we will also be participating in other university events in and out of the United States such as NYU, George Washington University, the University of British Columbia, and many more. We’ll also be collaborating with other mental health organizations to possibly create mental health strikes this 2020. If you would like to join, you can sign up and become part of our growing family through tinyurl.com/msom-application.

Emily: What would you say to those who don’t believe that mental illnesses are real or that mental health doesn’t matter?

Macy: I’d probably laugh at them. Mental health is a huge spectrum. It is seen literally everywhere, every single day. The way we exercise our minds, hearts, words, and actions reflect our current mental health state. The way we handle life situations and interactions with others contribute to our mental health. Everything is interconnected, and all of these connections matter. Mental health centers everything. We need to be aware of mental health and illnesses as it can improve our lives and the way we handle things. It will also help us love ourselves and other people more.

Emily: What advice would you give to other young people who are struggling with mental health?

Macy: Give yourself five hours to soak it in. Give yourself time to think and feel what you feel. But after that, get up on your feet and continue to do your best in life. Fight for yourself. Don’t let that past emotion control you or what you do. Try your best to stay positive and always find comfort in the fact that you are never alone. Try new things. Do something that makes you happy. Surround yourself with people you genuinely love. Don’t hate yourself for making mistakes. Smile and appreciate the present moment, and never forget to keep on going. Never stop believing in the idea that your current mental health state is not a definition of your worth. Instead, what defines you is what you make out of your situation. You got this! People are here for you!

EMILY BRETTHAUER

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MKM Mental Health team member Divya Malhotra spoke with Emily Bretthauer, a 19-year-old mental health activist from Orange, Connecticut. They talked about her mental health blog, her role models, and her "Share your story" project.

This interview does have a trigger warning: s***ide attempt

Divya: What is your favorite part of running a personal blog about mental health?

Emily: My favorite thing about running my mental health page is the reaction I get from some people. The messages they send me to make me feel like I'm actually making a difference in people's lives. I've had some people tell me that my page has helped them figure out that they need help or what to bring up with their psychologist. I've even had people tell me I've helped save their life. Hearing this has made me cry happy tears at times. I just want to make a difference in a few people's lives.

 

Divya:  When starting out your account, what challenges did you face? What inspired you to create this account?

Emily: I actually started mental health activism with a different account that also advocated for LGBTQ issues as well. I did receive some harassment from some accounts (mostly young boys) who tried to tell me my identity was wrong or some sexual harassment. I started that account back in 2017 when I was 16. My mental health ended up declining drastically in 2018 and I couldn't manage that account for a while. What really inspired me was myself and I know that sounds kinda strange, but I tried to kill myself during the summer of 2018, and a year later I finally realized I wanted to live. This inspired me to create an educational and positive account for mental health awareness. 

Divya: Are there any activists or role models you look up to?

Emily:  I have two main activist role models, both are popular musicians with mental health issues. The first one is Halsey! She has bipolar disorder and manages her life amazingly, advocating for mental health awareness and many other things that really motivate me. The second one is Dodie Clark, a musician, and YouTuber, who suffers from the same disorder that I do. She really helped me and her music is wonderful. There has been plenty of smaller accounts on Instagram and YouTube that have also inspired me a lot in my journey to making my page.

Divya:  What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers?

 

Emily: I haven't really told many of my peers at school about this account as I do share some personal information on it about my mental health story, but I am slowly warming up to the idea of showing it to my friends and reaching a wider audience at my school. The community as a whole on Instagram is like a family to me and I really want the best for them. It's been amazing to see how many people I have reached and how far I've gotten. I am so excited to see how far this little project of mine can go.

 

Divya: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to mental health?

Emily: Honestly, mental health awareness needs to be mandatory in schools, police academies, teacher training programs, etc. Half the problem is the stigma surrounding it and if we could get rid of that, I think the world would be such a better place. It's not uncommon to suffer from mental health, it's okay and it's something that deserves more knowledge in this society. Unfortunately, I'm not going into politics and social justice as a career; I really want to do clinical work in psychology, but I will never give up fighting the stigma surrounding mental health and illness.

Divya: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Emily: Youth are the future. I know that's an overused statement, but it's really the truth. We can change things and we WILL change things. Connecting with other youth is so important because when people hear stuff from people like them, they are more likely to do it. I'm looking forward to connecting with more people. I'm currently in college and working part-time during the summers, so it's difficult to connect when I'm already overwhelmed by my mental illness, but I'm really trying to reach out to more places and get involved. I believe this generation is the most open-minded yet and I'm excited to see what the future has to come.

Divya: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

 

Emily: I'm currently only working on a "Share your story" project on my Instagram along with my regular posting of an awareness series. If anyone wants to have their mental health story shared, no matter how "mild" or "severe" it is, everyone's story deserves to be heard. At my university, I'm also a part of Active Minds, an organization across the U.S dedicated to erasing the stigma surrounding mental health. I am currently debating creating an organization of my own around dissociation, something I struggle a lot with, but never hear about. I'm not sure I have the mental energy to create an organization of my own right now, but it's definitely on my mind often.

Divya: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Emily: Whatever you're thinking of doing, just go for it. We could use more people like you in this world. We need change and we need it now! I will gladly shout out any new advocacy accounts on my Instagram if you need help growing and reaching an audience. 

ALICIA ROTH

@recovery_alicia04

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MKM Mental Health team director Emily Weinberg spoke with Alicia Roth, a 16-year-old mental health activist living in Stuttgart, Germany. They talked about anorexia, her experience in child psychiatry, and her usage of Instagram to tell her story. 

Emily: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, our team was very impressed with all of your advocacy. What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Alicia: I was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of 13, and later with depression and social anxiety and was 2 times inpatient in child psychiatry, but now I live at home and continue outpatient therapy, which helps me a lot. I got involved in youth and student activism because I saw other young people doing it which inspired me to do the same because I want to speak up and raise awareness to change something.

 

Emily:  I would like to talk to you more about your work with student activism regarding mental health and eating disorders recovery. What got you so involved? If you feel comfortable talking about it, was there something personal that drove you to pursue mental health advocacy?

Alicia: I have an eating disorder and other mental illnesses and wanted to speak up and talk about the subject because I think that this is something people are ashamed of talking about. I wanted to get in touch with other people who have mental illnesses, hopefully, to give them hope and motivation. I try to reach as many people as possible because I think that it really can help when you can talk with somebody who is going through the same thing and I want to help others.

Emily: What has it been like sharing your experiences via social media with eating disorders? Have all the responses you’ve gotten been good? What were your friend’s and family’s reactions to you sharing your story?

Alicia: I started my account when I was a patient but didn’t post much. After I was discharged, I began to be more active on my Instagram account, and I really liked it. I felt that my account would keep me motivated since I got many good responses. Although, at first, my parents weren’t really sure if it was a good idea that I present my story via Instagram, now, they are my biggest support system, besides my friends and sister.

Emily:  What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers?  Did you find similarly minded mental health advocates who have been there throughout the experience? Did you lose any friendships because of your activism, and did you gain any new ones?

 

Alicia: By sharing my story, I got to meet many people with mental illnesses and keep in touch with them. I have also gained some friends that are really important to me and I learned that I can always talk about my problems with them; fortunately, I didn’t lose any friendships.

 

Emily: What is it like being a bilingual advocate for mental health? Are there times where you find it harder to speak to other activists?​

Alicia: I think that it is a great and important opportunity for me to be a bilingual mental health advocate because my background allows me to reach more people from different countries. I don’t find it hard to speak to other activists because I am always excited to get to know different people that do inspire me.

Emily: What do you think your society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to making mental health care more accessible for all?

Alicia: I think that our society should be more open about mental illnesses and know that it is nothing to be ashamed of. Also, it is important that everyone who needs mental health support can get the help they need, even if they don't have enough money to see a therapist.

Emily: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

 

Alicia: I think it is important because I believe that everyone can make a change if they want to. We have to raise awareness and the more people there are to make a difference, the bigger impact we can make.

Emily: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future? 

Alicia: Currently, I am very active on my Instagram account and hope that I can make an impact with this interview. In the future, I would like to speak in schools to talk about my mental health experiences. Soon, I hope that I will recover and be free from my mental illnesses and I know that this will not be easy, but I have the help I need, and I really have hope.

Emily: What would you like to do with your life? Do you have any dream jobs or places you want to travel to?

Alicia: I want to be happy and satisfied with my life. My dream job is to be a therapist and help/ guide others through their problems. I also really love travelling and hope to travel to Australia one day. 

Emily: What would you say to those who don’t believe in mental illnesses, or think that people use them for attention?

Alicia: I would tell them that mental illness is much more complicated than many people think and it is never a reason to get attention. People have mental illnesses because something is not going right in their lives. It is a sign that that they are not happy and may need help. This is very important for the signs to be seen and that the person gets the help they need. 

 

Emily: What advice would you give to other young people who are struggling with mental illnesses or those who have someone important in their life struggling with mental illness?

 

Alicia: To those who struggle with mental illnesses, I want to say that you are not alone. Your mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. If you need help, reach out for it. It isn’t a sign of weakness to ask for help, it shows how strong you are because you want to get better. There are always people who love and who support you. And for those who have somebody important in their life with mental illness, I want to say that you can be there for them, show them your love and that you believe in them. Please don’t leave them alone. They need you, even if they don’t always show it to you. Show them how important they are to you. It will get better, but you have to believe it.

SAMI SORID

@samisam1000

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MKM Mental Health team member Divya Malhotra spoke with Sami Sorid, a recently turned 20-year-old mental health activist from Mount Laurel, New Jersey. They talked about OCD, Move for Mental Health, and role models in mental health activism field. 

Divya: How did you get the idea to start a charity ride and one-mile walk and what inspired you?

Sami: I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) when I was around three years old, and it held me back in many ways when I was younger. For example, I clearly remember not being able to complete a standardized test in the first grade as I felt trapped by rituals and compulsions. I knew what I wanted to say on the exam, but my OCD would not let me showcase my knowledge. When I got a little bit older, I started to take therapy more seriously in order to take back my life. I am so lucky to have been given the opportunity to receive treatment, as I can now confidently say that although I still have my challenges with OCD, it has not held me back. However, I know that not everyone has access to therapy or medication for a variety of reasons. When I was a sophomore in high school, I came to this realization and wanted to do something to spread awareness and reduce the stigma. I had been interested in long-distance cycling and had participated in a variety of charity bike ride events. I felt that starting my own could bring awareness to mental health, and help others to see that they are not alone. From there, Move for Mental Health - a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to starting the conversation and contributing to organizations with similar mental health missions - was born. We host an annual charity bike ride and fun walk event in order to accomplish this mission.

 

Divya:  What has it been like starting this charity ride move for mental health?

Sami: When I first founded Move for Mental Health, it was definitely a challenge. It required incredibly intricate and extensive planning that I slowly learned how to navigate through working with many amazing people who taught me what it is like to plan a large-scale event. However, it has been so worth it. Ever since the first event, I have been lucky enough to hear so many mental health stories. The theme at our last event was "Why do you 'Move for Mental Health'?" and I heard more personal connections from participants and volunteers who were willing to share why they are connected to the cause. Move for Mental Health has definitely played a critical role in starting the conversation in my community and beyond.

Divya: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues like mental health stigma?

Sami: I have truly experienced tons of support since starting Move for Mental Health, and it definitely would not be where it is today without it. Other than people sharing their mental health stories with me, I have fortunately been met with many people asking how they can help to grow this event even more. It is amazing to see how many people step up to help in whatever ways they can. For instance, my local synagogue made encouraging signs to hang up at last year's event. Our sponsors generously express their commitment to the cause, and our volunteers go out of their way to make sure everyone is taken care of at the event. Through this initiative, other amazing mental health activists have expressed their interest and some have even come out to the event. But again, my favorite part of Move for Mental Health is each open conversation that I hear on a regular basis related to mental health.

Divya:  What do you think your country's lawmakers and society need to better at when it comes to mental health stigma and treatments for mental health issues like OCD?

 

Sami: I feel that the first step is getting these topics out into the open. Once we start talking openly about mental health, the stigma will be reduced and people will hopefully feel more comfortable about coming forward and seeking different forms of treatment. On the other side of this, many people do not have access to mental health treatment due to obstacles such as insurance and other financial barriers, and transportation issues. I think it ultimately comes down to reminding people that mental health is a part of wellness (in addition to physical health) and that it should be treated as such.

 

Divya:  Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Sami: First off, we are in the process of planning for this year's Move for Mental Health event that will take place in Mount Laurel, NJ on July 11th. It is going to be another fun and inspiring event and I am excited to see it come to fruition! For anyone who is interested in participating in our charity bike ride or fun walk event, volunteering, or donating, you can do so at www.moveformentalhealth.org. This year's proceeds will benefit an organization called COP2COP, which is made up of retired police officers and licensed clinicians that offer 24-hour confidential peer support for NJ law enforcement officers and their families. Additionally, I currently serve as the president for William & Mary's chapter of Active Minds, which has been an awesome experience. We are currently working on planning a campus-wide mental health panel with the goal to spread awareness for mental health and reduce the stigma on campus. I also just started working with NOCD as a student ambassador. NOCD is a program that provides people with ERP therapy with a specialized OCD therapist.

Divya: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Sami: Young people are the future. There are so many people who inspire me to create change, and I think that everyone can do something to do their part no matter how small and insignificant it may seem. Connecting with something or someone who inspires you can make a huge difference in starting this chain reaction of creating change in the world.

Divya: Who are some activists you look up to?

 

Sami: One person that comes to mind is Alison Malmon, who is the Founder and Executive Director of Active Minds, a national organization that has the goal of changing the conversation about mental health (especially in university settings). I think she is a great example of being the change that she wished to see in the world, and she has definitely inspired me to keep spreading awareness for mental health. Also, my friends Taylor Kane and Meghan Vizzard both founded their own nonprofits, and I have been continuously inspired by their desire to create change. Taylor started Remember the Girls (www.rememberthegirls.org), a nonprofit organization that aims to empower females with x-linked disorders. Meghan founded Cozies for Chemo (www.cozies4chemo.org), another nonprofit with the goal of providing hand-tied blankets to cancer patients, therefore giving them the gift of comfort. All of these people have inspired me to go after what I am passionate about and I am in awe of their dedication to these amazing causes.

Divya: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Sami: I know it can be daunting to get started, but just know that every action makes a difference. Seemingly small initiatives add up to create great change. Also, there are lots of people who are always willing to provide advice and help you get started.

KATHRYN BOOTH

@the_road_to_recovery_from_ocd

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MKM Mental Health team member Divya Malhotra spoke with Kathryn Booth, a 17-year-old mental health activist from San Francisco, California. They talked about how she uses her platform to share her OCD journey, Mental Health Matters SF, and her involvement with her local NAMI chapter. 

Divya: When I was doing the research before reaching out to you, I was personally really moved by your activism, what got you involved in mental health activism?

Kathryn: What first inspired me to take part in mental health activism was the lack of knowledge that my fellow peers had of mental illnesses and the ones that I struggled with in particular. I initially began my mental health recovery account on Instagram as a platform to educate my immediate peer group at school and since then my account has grown tremendously, more than I ever would have expected.

 

Divya:  What has it been like sharing your mental health journey on Instagram?

Kathryn: Sharing my mental health journey on Instagram has been an incredibly healing and amazing experience overall. Through my Instagram account, I have not only had the opportunity to educate people about commonly misunderstood mental illnesses like OCD, but also the opportunity to help others feel less alone in their own mental health struggles. Generally, I have found that helping others has helped me to progress my own healing and has led me to want to become a clinical psychologist when I grow up.

Divya: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues like OCD and mental health stigma (Taking some sort of action EX: organizing event, starting a petition, etc)?

Kathryn: Overall, the response that I have received from my Instagram account, both from my peers and others has been very positive. Since I have begun my account, many individuals have opened up to me about their own mental health struggles and have told me that my account has made them feel less alone, helping them in one way or another. Additionally, I have grown to meet and become friends with many other like-minded OCD and mental health advocates from all over the world, leading me to help create a collaborative account @ocd.advocates.united on Instagram. With this account, I and about twenty other advocates create both educational and inspirational content for those suffering from OCD and other related disorders.

Divya:  What do you think your country's lawmakers and society need to better at when it comes to mental health stigma and treatments for mental health issues like OCD?

 

Kathryn:  I think our country's lawmakers need to be better about implementing more required mental health education programs into both middle and high schools because everybody has mental health, not just those with a mental illness. My hope would be that such programs could teach people ways to improve their own mental health and teach them about different mental illnesses as well as the early warning signs for them.

 

Divya:  Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Kathryn:  My most current mental health activism project is called Mental Health Matters SF (@mental.health.matters.sf), where I am working to implement more mental health education programs into San Francisco middle and high schools through NAMI's (National Alliance on Mental Illness) free, "Ending the Silence" presentations. During NAMI's presentations at various school, I share my own mental health journey with students, to help normalize mental illness and show others that there are many opportunities to receive help with any mental illness.

Divya: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Kathryn:  I think that it is very important to connect with other young people to make change happen because we are the future, we are the individuals who are ultimately going to be the ones who make an impact on our world, which is why it needs to be positive.

Divya: I saw that you took part in an episode of UNSTUCK OCD Kids speak out- could you describe how you felt and the experience?

Kathryn:  It was such an amazing opportunity to get to participate in an episode of UNSTUCK OCD Kids Speak Out alongside Chris Baier. I first got the chance to watch "UNSTUCK- An OCD Kids Movie" while in a partial hospitalization program (PHP) for my OCD. The documentary made me feel inspired to conquer my OCD head-on and enlighten others about the harsh realities of OCD. In November of 2018, Chris Baier contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be featured on an episode of Kids Speak Out, after following my mental health/OCD advocacy account on Instagram (@the_road_to_recovery_from_ocd) for multiple months. I was super excited to share my experiences with the world on a larger platform, and overall it wound up being a great experience. 

Divya: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Kathryn: The advice that I would give young people who want to go out and change the world is to start out with something small, and overtime if your work is meaningful and genuine, it will reach a larger audience. Social media is also another great way to spread awareness and spark change because you have the opportunity to engage and communicate with many like-minded individuals from all over the world.

SEIKA BROWN

@seikabrown

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MKM Mental Health team member Claire Hedberg spoke with Seika Brown, an 18-year-old mental health activist from Issaquah, Washington- a state with one of the highest suicide rates in the country. They talked about what mental health really is and her personal goals for 2020 and beyond.

Claire: You founded an organization called Archnova. Tell me about Archnova’s beginnings and its mission.

Seika: I started an organization called Archnova.  Our mission is to spread awareness about mental health issues and to promote a healthy mindset for today’s young people. I started Archnova after taking a Psychology class as a sophomore. In that class, we were supposed to find a problem and present a solution. I identified the lack of mental health awareness and promotion as a problem. My solution was to start a mental health club within my school. However, my school was not really looking to start a mental health club, so I decided to take my passion outside of school. It started out as a club, but it has become so much more than that.  My teammates and I had to access our values and learn how to be both students and activists. 

 

Claire: What is something you think society misunderstands about mental health?

Seika: One big misconception about mental health today is that mental health is only mental illness. While anxiety, depression, etc. is a big part of mental health, mental health is so much more than that. Mental health is a mindset that an individual carries every day of their lives regardless of whether they have a mental illness. Mental health is about being a happy, healthy individual. 

Claire: How do you maintain your own mental health while being an activist and what advice would you give to other activists that are trying to maintain their mental health?

 

Seika:   I have had to learn how to balance my school, personal life, and my work.  I have a wonderful support system, one reason I am able to be both an activist and a student. Any activist has to learn the principles of balance. We also have to recognize that as activists we are targets. Our mental health is going to deteriorate somewhat because of the work we do. People will try to take our words out of context and try to tear us down. It is important to never take this to heart and to be able to take and recognize constructive criticism. This type of response is productive and good for the work that we do. We also just have to stay true to being kids. At the end of the day, we are all just kids. 

Claire:  What can society and lawmakers do to distimigatize the topic of mental health and improve the conversation upon their constituents?

 

Seika: One huge obstacle to improving mental health is the lack of mental health education. I learned about mental health because of the classes in high school I choose to take, the education and facts were not given to me. We should not have to choose to be educated on such a crucial thing as mental health. We have to teach our kids, starting from a young age, about mental health. We have to teach them healthy habits and how to care for themselves. We know that these kids when introduced to these habits at a young age, will pick them up and use them for the rest of their lives. Learning about mental health at a young age will set us up for a happier, healthier generation.

 

Claire: What is it like being in the spotlight for your activism? How has your community and peers reacted to your work? Did you lose any friendships because of your activism, did you gain any new relationships?

Seika: The feeling of being an activist comes in waves. It is very surreal. My friends ask me if it ever just hits me, and honestly, it does and sometimes it doesn’t. My school has been supportive and flexible. I have the privilege of having a great group of friends. At first, everyone was not as supportive, but now I have a lot of support from all my spheres of life.

 

Claire: Are there any current activism projects that you are working on, or plans for the future that you would like to talk about?

Seika: This year, my organization Archnova is looking to really support and guide other youth activists. We are going to release a toolkit for youth activists looking for support and direction. We want to help them assess the basics of their values and help them take their first steps. We have made it free so that everyone can access this tool in order to make the change they want to see. This really helps us further our ideas of change whilst helping other young activists start their journeys. 

Claire: What got you involved in the world of mental health activism.? Was there a time when the importance of mental health really stood out to you?

 

Seika: I have a lot of personal connections to the world of mental health. When I was eight years old, my older brother attempted suicide. I spent a lot of time in the waiting room, while my brother was in therapy. I looked at the infographics on the wall and I began to understand how important mental health is. High school also gave me more connections to the world of mental health activism. I saw many of my friends and peers under extreme stress and pressure. Many of them fell into depression and developed anxiety. High school really cemented the importance of mental health in my mind. I am also half Japanese. Unfortunately, the way my culture stigmatizes mental health made it hard for me to embrace my culture while being a mental health activist. However, I am able to celebrate my culture while being sure to advocate for mental health care and education.

Claire: What is your hope for the future, mental health and more? What are your activism goals?

Seika: We need a dire change in this country around mental health. Sooner or later, there is going to be an earthquake of activism. We need to treat mental health like an earthquake. We have to prepare for the earthquake and also care for ourselves after the earthquake. You can’t just prepare for them before or after. It has to be both. I feel it is unrealistic at this moment in time to expect change from the federal government. I want to see individual states stepping up and tackling these issues head-on. We need leaders, not followers. As a society, I think we need to redefine mental health. Personally, I have a big goal for my activism. I am going to be attending Cornell University. I want to succeed there, while also staying true to my passion for activism. I want to make the transition between high school and college as smooth as possible. In the future, I hope to write a book. 

Claire: Why do you think young people are uniquely suited for mental health activism. Is it especially important for adults to listen to youth mental health activists?

Seika: It is so important for adults to let youth lead on this issue. Mental health is always changing and we need current perspective on the issues. Mental health varies greatly from generation to generation. Your grandparents' mental health and your mental health are going to look vastly different from each other. We need to be in the spotlight in order to insure adults get this right. If you don’t talk to the kids, your policies won’t work. You have to talk to the kids in order to get your ideas right. We need to hear first-hand stories about what mental health in this day and age looks like.

Claire: What is one of your accomplishments as an activist that you feel most proud of? Did the feeling of activism come naturally, or did it take time before you felt cemented in the community?

Seika: The feeling of being an activist comes in waves. Most of the time, I don’t really feel like an activist. Sometimes it just hits me. One of the things I am most proud of is helping pass a bill in Washington State. It felt great to be able to see and feel results from my work. I also recently had an interview in Seattle that was one of the greatest conversations I have ever had. I was just talking, but also learning from people. I felt like the adults there really cared about what I had to say and wanted to help me and other activists on our journeys. Many people may think I feel like an activist all the time, but at the end of the day I am just a kid in high school that has math homework they didn’t do.

COLLEEN SHERRY

@colleen_sherry

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MKM Mental Health team member Nova Rivers interviewed 17-year-old Colleen Sherry from Great Falls, VA. They discussed NAMI, the strong influence academia has on mental health, and personal mental illnesses.

Nova: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Colleen: I’m currently leading the National Alliance on Mental Illness NOVA Youth Leadership Council, a group of mental health activists aged 15-32 that come together to engage in mental health advocacy, lobbying, holding events for families and the community, and work towards inclusivity and destigmatization, especially within the educational and LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. I’m also one of the chairs for my school district’s Health and Wellness commission, and our current projects involve gaining better mental health screenings for students as well as a better line of communication between students and faculty. 

 

Nova: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Colleen: Don’t think that just because no one has talked about it doesn’t mean it’s not important. There are a lot of issues that haven’t been addressed and after many years, people began to realize mental health was a problem that needed funding and solving. If you address the problems no one is talking about, you have the opportunity to make an even bigger impact by being one of the initial individuals to start the conversation.

 

Nova: How has your understanding of mental health/wellness changed over time? 

 

Colleen: It used to be a very one-dimensional issue to me- I just assumed we needed more awareness in schools regarding the topic. However, there are a lot of factors that go into this people don’t often consider, such as the difference between stress and anxiety, seasonal disorders, school environments, and certain preconceptions surrounding each disorder. We can’t treat mental illness in the likeness that one solution will solve problems for every condition, due to the fact that they do not have all the same symptoms. OCD, Bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, and other conditions all need individually tailored ideas.

 

Nova: How this understanding impacted you on a personal level?

 

Colleen: OCD and Executive Dysfunction have always been things I’ve had a lot of trouble dealing with, in school especially. I didn’t go about advocating for it at first, but as I continued high school, I learned about the concerns that other people wanted to discuss. This really opened my eyes with my specific issue.

 

Nova: What drives you to be a power for good in the world?

Colleen: Knowing that I am not alone and that there are other people out there struggling, that, unfortunately, don’t have the same access to resources like I do.

 

Nova: Are there any specific issues in today's world that you believe need to have more exposure?

 

Colleen: In addition to mental health diversity, I really think we need to discuss the unhealthy academic environment college admissions fosters, especially in the wake of varsity blues. It’s such a big part of everyone’s life, but rarely got attention until last year's college admissions scandal, and now that the issue has momentum, I really would like to address how it contributes to a student’s mental health. Additionally, I can go on for hours about the opioid crisis because it needs to be dealt with immediately.

 

Nova: Describe yourself as a team member in three words. 

 

Colleen: Approachable, inclusive, ambitious.

SRILEHKA CHERUKUVADA

@srileeka

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MKM Mental Health Team member Shayna Rutman spoke with Srilehka Cherukuvada, a 16-year-old mental health activist from Austin, TX. She is also the News Director for MKM! They talked about writing, Plannr Consulting, and education.

 

Shayna: What drove you to get involved in student activism?

 

Srilehka: I used to know nothing about student activism, much less the word "activism" itself. That was before I realized the power of using words to change lives. Writing was always my passion and I loved writing creatively and in more professional settings. However, once I started getting into different social justice magazines, my writing style changed. It was no longer about crafting the perfect story or making it sound the most professional. It was about how and why I needed to change the world. How I should write to get my word out concisely and persuasively. It didn't make me any better at my English timed writings though :D. After getting involved with several magazines, including Lune, Root Policy, and Politeen, I started looking for bigger organizations. Organizations that weren't just about powerful writing but about holding activism events, about using social media to create awareness, and about taking charge and leading groups in an initiative. However, despite the larger organizations, and the larger positions, what brings me down to Earth is writing. Writing drove me to become an activist and it will always hold a special place in my heart. My student activism journey wouldn't have been possible if I didn't love using words to craft sentences into paragraphs into pages into stories. Student activism isn't just about changing the world. It's about the passion and reason behind it. It's about being in love with the way you're impacting the world, rather than the impact you've made.

 

Shayna: What catalyst made you passionate about raising mental health awareness?

 

Srilehka: Mental health concerns were always big in our community. I go to a high school where there is a heavy emphasis on minimizing stress, which is all great. However, that emphasis, that effort to stop mental health issues doesn't help as much as some people think they do. They weren't doing enough. Teachers would still go around the principal and assign homework for breaks when they weren't allowed to. There would still be a huge number of tests and quizzes throughout each week. That effort to bring down the number of mental health issues still inspired me. Despite the numerous mental health issues I saw around me, from depression, to anxiety, to bullimia, I knew why the community cared so much. Even more so, I saw my family and my friends around me struggling. I saw even myself struggling and I just couldn't believe the lack of acceptance or resources towards this issue. There needs to be someone out there, I thought, who cares as much about this issue as much as me. I researched and found an amazing, thriving community of mental health activists. I was already a political and social activist, so I thought, why not expand? Why not try to make a change even bigger than me and this world? Something permanent. Something that would truly create an impact so large and powerful. That was mental health activism to me. It was changing people's views and opinions on the stigma around mental health. It was promoting acceptance and creating a community. My community inspired me to start another community. And it still does every day.

 

Shayna: Tell me about Plannr Consulting. What drove you to start this initiative? What was the impact of your community?

 

Srilehka: I founded Plannr Consulting a couple months ago. As someone who is obsessed with planning and organization, I felt the need to not only educate other youth on how to properly stay planned and organized, but also connect it all together to mental health. Plannr Consulting aims to educate GenZ youth on how to stay organized going into high school, college, and the later stages of their lives where it is vital to keep a plan. Our organization is entirely run by youth in high school and college and has three main focuses- Consulting, Awareness, and Community. We hold consultations for free, as a not-for-profit. This is actually very rare to find and, even though we don't have certified psychologists as advisers yet, we still believe youth opinions are essential to college admissions, test prep, and lifestyle consulting. We also hold campaigns through social media to further the awareness of different mental health issues. Finally, we have a rising Discord community where people can just vent, relax, and talk about every little thing in their lives. We encourage people to speak up about their mental health issues and will soon be starting a blog to really flesh out all of the different types of issues, how to recover from them, and other tips and cool articles and stories. My inspiration for starting Plannr Consulting is very similar to what got me into mental health activism itself. Observing my community, and myself, I was able to see so many different issues and I just couldn't stand it anymore. I had to do something, anything. That's why I founded Plannr Consulting, and I hope we can grow to have an impact on everyone's lives.

 

Shayna: What do you think our society and lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to erasing the stigma around mental health?

 

Srilehka: When it comes to erasing the stigma around mental health, I think lawmakers could definitely do a lot, however, I think because mental health is such a broad issue, it will interconnect with many other political issues, like mass shootings, assault, and abortion. In this case, I don't want to share my own political views, but rather would like to acknowledge that all of these political issues can have a severe impact on the mental health of not only the youth, but everyone. I think schools would greatly benefit from the education of different mental health issues, and lawmakers could enforce that sort of curriculum. Simply knowing about the issue or accepting that you have that issue can help a lot in recovery. Rather than creating laws to shield suicide and other unfortunate consequences of deeply rooted mental health issues, the government especially should help to create awareness for the issues. Rather than covering up the issue, we should be learning from it and accepting that there is something that we need to fix. The next step from there is only finding out how to fix it. I think this responsibility should not, and will not, only rest on the government itself. More-so, it's society that needs to step up. We all should induce conversation and stop shaming others for mental health issues. We shouldn't say that "we're depressed," when we know that truly, depression stems from a much deeper issue. OCD isn't staying organized; it's obsessive and it takes over people's lives. Anxiety is not one day where we are stressed. It's constant and overbearing. It's when you can't breathe because you're so scared and nervous. And these are just some of the many mental health issues faced daily. We, as a community, need to start taking responsibility for our friends and family. We need to form a community for healing. The government can greatly aid in this, but without society's support, nothing will ever actually change.

 

Shayna: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Srilehka: To other young people trying to speak out and change the world- be patient. You cannot create a wave instantaneously, nor can you do it by only thinking 30 years ahead of where we are now. Small ripples will eventually lead to that wave, and it's coming. It's coming soon. Get involved now with your local organizations. Get involved online through different publications and organizations. Apply. Work hard. Keep going. Speaking out might be nerve-wracking at first, but nothing will change if we don't. The activism community is so supportive, and I promise you that you will make so many friends and connections along the way. You don't have to want to become a politician or a lawmaker to create change in the world. You just need an inspiration, a spark, a passion, or a reason for doing it. Have purpose, and you can create change. Think practically. Smart small and work your way up to changing the entire world. We need you. We need the activists who are passionate, compassionate, and ready to change the world. 

DIVYA MALHOTRA

@that_spooky_gremlin

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I chatted with Divya Malhotra, a 16-year-old mental health activist from Dehli, India. We talked about India’s education system, training mental health activists, and speaking up. Divya is a member of MKM’s Mental Health team!

 

Isabel: As a young person, why are you passionate about mental health? 

Divya: I am passionate about mental health as in my personal opinion, we are doing an amazing job creating awareness for the importance of mental health and we should continue to do so, but with this new decade we must move from just raising awareness.

Isabel: What have you learned through working with other young people on mental health awareness?

 

Divya: I'm learning how to work with a group of people that I've never met and I am learning research skills. On a more personal note, I'm also learning how to be relaxed with others but still professional as I can be a bit too formal sometimes, and so far this team has really been helping me do that.

 

Isabel; What do you think lawmakers in your country could do to better support the mental health of young people?

 

Divya: In terms of India, a better mental health of young people can only be changed by listening to the youth themselves. Particularly, the Indian curriculum is notoriously known for being strict, stress-inducing and leading to hundreds committing suicide or developing depression, so in order to better our mental health, we must incorporate mental health education into curriculum and make changes to create an education system where students can have a healthy work-life balance. 

Isabel: What does it mean to you to be on MKM’s Mental Health team?

 

Divya: To be candid, being part of MKM's Mental Health team means a lot to me. I love that I can work with people who are passionate about mental health activism like me while still having a good time. I am really excited about working more in the future with this team.   

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Divya: I am currently working to train more teen mental health activists in my school. For the future, I would like to create a website for my mental health activism and perhaps start workshops here in Dubai about mental health, specifically youth mental health and ending the stigma.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Divya: It doesn't matter if you're speaking out to a hundred people or just one. Every word you speak matters and your voice and thoughts, no matter how many people listen or criticize, is something you can't be stripped off so you might as well speak no matter how uncomfortable and scary.

EMILY KEHLER

@lotus.in.the.sun

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MKM Mental Health Team member Nova Rivers spoke with Emily Kehler, a 19-year-old mental health activist from Long Island, NY. They chatted about eating disorder recovery, Instagram, and rallying others.

 

Nova: What are specific issues in the world specifically regarding mental health that you feel strongly about?

 

Emily: I am a huge advocate for mental health and eating disorder recovery. I have had an eating disorder for the majority of my life, and last year it brought me to the brink of death. I wasn't able to live life to the fullest because of my obsession with food and my worsening depression. I decided to get help. I was tired of living life halfway. Today I am able to live life to the fullest as I am in recovery. It is still hard, but I feel like I have my life back. I hope by sharing my story, I inspire others to get help and start living life to the fullest.

 

Nova: What actions have you taken that have helped others who may be struggling with mental illness?

 

Emily: I use my recovery instagram @lotus.in.the.sun as a blog and document my journey in recovery from an eating disorder among other mental illnesses. In doing this, I hope to inspire anyone suffering from a mental illness to get help and also to create a community in which they know that they are not alone.

 

Nova: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Emily: In the future, I hope to continue inspiring others through my Instagram and also rally with others through walks and support groups. I went to a rally in NYC this year and was the top individual fundraiser. I had no idea I could make such a difference in a community.

 

Nova: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Emily: The biggest piece of advice I could give to anyone who is trying to make their voice heard in this world is that you should never give up. Whether you accumulate a community of 1 person or 1000 people, keep going and making your voice heard. It is truly a ripple effect and you will touch so many more people that you know. 

CARL SCHIRMER

@cj.schirmer

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I spoke with Carl Schirmer, a 16-year-old mental health activist from Massachusetts. We talked about therapy, being mentally ill, and toxic masculinity. 

 

Isabel: What made you want to speak out for mental health awareness?

 

Carl: I want to speak out for mental health awareness because of my personal experience with it. I've struggled with depression, anxiety, type 2 bipolar disorder, and PTSD. I've seen a lot of misconceptions come from people my age and adults so I wanted to become known as an educator, not someone who's just "mentally ill.”

 

Isabel: As a young person, especially a young male, what does mental health mean to you?

 

Carl: Mental health means a lot to me. I attend a therapeutic/collaborative school and I get to see a lot of other kids who struggle with their own mental health issues. I have been in therapy since I was in 3rd grade and hospitals/programs have been involved since I was in 6th grade. As a young male who suffers from it, it's tough, because I can't control when I get upset. If a child sees me, a 6 foot, large male walking down the street with tears streaming down my face, they might think about it differently than if they saw a female doing the same. I, personally, don't see men cry a lot where I'm from, so I feel like people just aren't used to seeing men be so open about it.

 

Isabel: What would you like to see change in the way our society discusses youth with mental illness?

 

Carl: I think a lot of people are quick to judge and that's what I would like to see change. Nobody knows what anyone is dealing with. Someone could be anxious about something like crossing the street for a million reasons, but some people seem to think only one specific reason is valid. It isn't fair. I just wish people were more considerate.

 

Isabel: Why do you think it is possible for our generation to end toxic masculinity and the stigma of mental illness in general?

 

Carl: I think it is possible to end toxic masculinity and the stigma of mental illness because so many more people are becoming brave enough to share their experiences, share how they’re feeling, and try new things. People who have stories are beginning to tell them and more people are starting to hear them. People are beginning to realize that mental illness takes place in every culture and that these feelings can come upon anybody. I think the people with the problems could be the ones to solve them.

 

Isabel: I love that. Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Carl: I am trying to incorporate mental health with my art because it’s been a coping skill for me for as long as I can remember.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Carl: Don’t try to please anybody. If you need to tell someone how you’re feeling, you should tell them honestly, tell them what you have to say. Don’t speak to please, speak to inform. 

AUTUMN CAIN

@astro_autumn 

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I spoke with Autumn Cain, a 19-year-old mental health activist from Kalamazoo, MI. We talked about autism, education, and helping women on the spectrum.

 

Isabel: What got you involved with mental health activism and how have you seen the impact of it in your life?

 

Autumn: I have personally struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember. I have dealt with eating disorders and anxiety since I was 9 years old and an array of other mental health issues ever since. There came a point when I was about 14 when I could no longer hide or suppress any of my difficulties, and I began voicing my concerns to my doctor. I quickly realized that many doctors are ill-equipped to fully aid mental health issues. When I was able to receive a proper diagnosis years later I was finally able to feel whole. I understood that because of my autism and ADHD, I was not a failure for not being “normal”. I tell you this because I didn’t wake up one day with a sudden interest in mental health activism - it’s been a fight I’ve fought personally my entire life. The difference now as I am fully finding my mental health path is that I want to help others find their own path as well. I want to help others who may not have their doctors or family members advocating for them - I want to be their voice and to show them that their perspective matters. I want to help others find their diagnoses and treatment plans so that they can live life in its entirety - because that’s what we all want in the end and it’s what we all deserve.

 

Isabel: What does mental health advocacy mean to you as a young person growing up today?

 

Autumn: It means prioritizing understanding and taking care of ourselves before rushing into any sort of hustle in life. Past generations have been born into a world where they were told to suppress their emotions and mental health difficulties and rush into a 9 to 5 job. As a young person today, I am advocating for our generation and generations to come to take the time to understand themselves, because in doing so we can understand what we should be doing in life. We can take our understanding of ourselves and use that to create the most good in the world. We can take care of ourselves to ensure that any impact we create later in life is sustainable and makes us as happy as we can be. We can create a better, more welcoming, and happier world. In participating in mental health advocacy as a young person, I am striving to create a world in which we no longer go about our day invalidating our own mental health struggles and the struggles of others, and instead use our own personal experiences and understanding of ourselves to create the most good and joy for generations to come.

 

Isabel: That is great. You do a lot of work with other projects relating to climate activism or LGBTQIA+ projects. Why do you think mental health is intersectional with every other political issue?

 

Autumn: The simple answer is that we’re all in this together. Nothing we care about will ever get done if we don’t stand united together. No matter where we come from or what issue matters most to us, our goals and priorities intersect, and the only way to make true progress is to unite and demand change with one voice. Minority groups and the LGBTQIA+ community already have a clear understanding of what it feels like to not belong to a dominant culture. We know what it feels like to be underrepresented in certain circles. One of our most basic psychological needs is belonging. When we feel like we do not belong to groups, we experience feelings of invisibility, unworthiness, loneliness, and low self-esteem.The importance of intersectionality is that it recognizes that people do not always only belong to a single group. Many groups suffer traumas due to discrimination and prejudice, sometimes on a daily basis. The field of mental health is now cognizant of the fact that the experiences of minority groups can differ greatly from those of the dominant culture. All in all, mental health is incredibly intersectional with everything in politics. 

 

Isabel: What should we be doing when it comes to how we treat youth who struggle with mental illnesses in America?

 

Autumn: We should first change how mental health is “taught” in school. We need to have difficult discussions with students from a relatively early age, making sure that they understand that the mental health issues they will likely face are valid and that there are options for them to seek help. Throughout my time in school, I went through my day, every single day, feeling incredibly isolated and assuming that I was the only one facing similar issues when in fact almost everyone was facing similar mental health difficulties. One structurally sound step that I would be ecstatic about would be providing mental health courses in high schools - or at a bare minimum including mental health lessons in health courses. We need to educate students on mental health issues because education from an earlier age will be the first step to fully destigmatizing mental health illness for youth and others alike.

 

Isabel: Are there any activism projects you are working on now or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Autumn: The main project I will be launching within the next month is a nonprofit organization called Autisma. Autisma is an organization to help women on the spectrum find a welcoming community and receive equal representation, diagnosis, and overall support. Women with autism, especially those of color, often go incredibly undiagnosed. This is primarily because the only representation we see of autism in everything from the media to research tends to be targeted towards white, teenage boys, leaving many girls and women undiagnosed and underrepresented. From sharing the stories of women on the spectrum to providing scholarships, it is our goal to redefine the face of autism. I plan to continue running and expanding Autisma so that we can not only create the greatest impact nationally but also globally. I also hope to give another TEDTalk, this time talking at length about women with autism and how we need to change our understanding of the face of autism so that women, gender-nonconforming individuals, and people of color with autism are not disproportionately affected.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Autumn: No matter how young, how quiet, how smart, or how rich you are, you can always make a difference. It’s quite a cliche to word it as such, but it cliches are true for a reason. There is always something you can bring to the table no matter the situation you are in or the background you come from. In fact, the background you come from is exactly what you should be utilizing to make a positive change. It’s the things that make you different, the things that make you stand out the most, that can help you create the most good in the world. 

EMILY WEINBERG

@emily.weinberg

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I spoke with Emily Weinberg, a 17-year-old mental health activist from Lexington, MA. We chatted about borderline personality disorder, Sophrosyne Mental Health, and the Mental Health March.

 

Isabel: As a young person, how has mental health most affected you?

 

Emily: When I was in my freshman year of high school, my depression started to take over my life. I was overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and hopelessness and my parents and I decided that it would be best for me to stay inpatient at a psychiatric hospital. Since then, I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and struggled with self-harm, but I have discovered that what makes me feel better is speaking out, sharing my experiences, and showing kindness to those around me.

 

Isabel: What are your hopes for the future when it comes to the de-stigmatization of mental illnesses?

 

Emily: I hope that in the future, people are able to talk openly about their mental health without fear of being called crazy or psycho or anything along those lines. I dream that suicides will no longer be one of the leading causes of death, and that mental illnesses will be obstacles in the road, but not stop signs. Everyone has their own story and I hope that in the future we can look past each other’s diagnoses and really get to know the person.

 

Isabel: Tell me a little bit about Sophrosyne Mental Health. What is that organization all about and what inspired you to create it?

 

Emily: I created Sophrosyne Mental Health because of my curiosity to understand what was going on in my brain. I couldn’t always understand my actions, but I could understand the science and neurochemistry. I wanted to create a resource for other teens to be able to understand how their brains work and maybe feel as though they could understand themselves a little more. I wanted to create a safe place where people could discover different coping mechanisms, study skills that might work for them, and be able to connect with other teens about issues they might face when it comes to stigma.

 

Isabel: It looks like there is going to be a Mental Health March in Boston. Why do you think it’s important to show up and be on the frontlines for something like mental health awareness?

 

Emily: There is a Mental Health March in Boston on June 16th that I’m planning with my friend, Nora. I think it’s important to show up and speak out so that other people don’t feel as alone. In my experience, the more you talk about these things, the more comfortable other people feel telling you about their struggles, and therefore the more people you can help. In a way, I’m proud of my mental illnesses, because they make me the strong person I am today. I am more empathetic, brave, and kind because of my recovery.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future that you would like to talk about?

 

Emily: I’m also currently working on a website called “Millennial Monarch” where people can find resources for ways they can get involved in fighting different social injustices, such as the refugee crisis, ethical work, climate change, and gun violence.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Emily: I want to let other young people who want to join in a movement know that while it can seem overwhelming to get started, you should take that leap. It can be hard work, but it is worth it. Use a skill you have, such as art or music or organizing or writing and create something that helps push the movement even further.

KATIE MONTGOMERY

@ilysbkatie

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I chatted with Katie Montgomery, a 15 year-old mental health activist from Kettering, OH. We talked about awareness, a mental health platform led by teens, and working locally.

 

Isabel: As a young person, why is mental health awareness important for you?

 

Katie: Mental health awareness is incredibly important to me because mental health is everything. Everyone, even people without mental illness, experience mental health everyday. Emotions and struggles are a part of everyone's journey and mental wellbeing plays a big role in life. Awareness brings necessary conversation. Awareness can make others feel as if it's okay to be open. No one should feel alone and it's so unfortunate that many do. As someone who is heavily affected with mental illness, I just want to comfort everyone struggling.

 

Isabel: How do you believe that our society can de-stigmatize mental health issues?

 

Katie: Society can de-stigmatize mental health issues by caring. Whether it's providing mental health resources or having normalized open discussions.

 

Isabel: Talk a little about Silencing the Stigma. What has it been like working with them and what have you learned so far?

 

Katie: Silencing The Stigma is a upcoming mental health awareness platform! The website is launching soon and it will be a collaborative zone for teenagers anywhere to share their mental health related stories/art. STS is ran by teenagers around the world. I love working with them! I'm in awe of everyone’s activism, stories, and kindness. They've taught me more about vulnerability, which I'm grateful for.

 

Isabel: You are a mental health advocate but you are also a strong advocate for gun reform and LGBT rights in the US. What’s it like working in many different movements?

 

Katie: It's important to care about many different topics. I'm vocal about gun reform and the LGBTQ community because there is so much work (relating to these movements) to be done within this world. Progressivism is needed and others should know about ongoing injustices.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out or plans for the future?

 

Katie: I currently am writing for Defiant Magazine, a new political and social justice magazine ran by teens. Other than that, I am working locally. As for plans for the future, I hope to start some type of club involving justice (maybe climate reform or gun control) and to also run social service projects. Then during the presidential election, I am most certainly going to be politically active.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?


Katie: Young people have so much to say and we now have the platform of social media. Post about topics dear to you. Stay informed and read about what you are interested in. Information is more accessible than ever, and it's honestly a good feeling to know about politics and the world. Research local activism activities and be involved with groups/events that help the community. Putting forth an effort is always worth it. You got this.

LAUREN COHEN

@laurxcohen

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I had a great conversation with Lauren Cohen, a 15 year-old mental health activist from Gainesville, FL. We talked about the universality of mental health, young people being empowered, and using social media for good.

 

Isabel: As a young person, what does mental health mean to you?

 

Lauren: Mental health is a universal issue. It’s something that can affect any of us, whether it be ourselves, friends, family or simply a colleague. Mental health does not discriminate. It affects us all: young, old, female, male, non-binary, rich, poor, black, brown, white, religious, non religious, disabled and abled. However, the stigma surrounding this issue has become a widespread epidemic. We are losing a generation of youth who do not believe that their voices are worth hearing, that their pain will never cease. This is why I decided to take action.

 

Isabel: That is a perfect segway. Tell me about Silencing the Stigma. What inspired you to create that organization and how impactful has it been so far?

 

Lauren: For far too long, have we lived in silence, fearful of the culture that still surrounds mental illness. We must share our narratives so that this global epidemic surrounding mental health no longer resides and festers in the darkness. We must bring light to one of the most serious challenges our society faces. I founded Silencing the Stigma, an organization that will work to fight that taboo. Fighting the taboo is the first of many things we need to do. Mental illness is not shameful, but the stigma is. We must shed light on this paradox in our society that prizes freedom of speech but silences the voices of those struggling. We as youth, must begin the conversation. 1 in 4 of us may be suffering but 4 in 4 of us must be speaking. We all must be silencing the stigma.

 

Isabel: What has it been like working with so many young people in the mental health community to advocate for change?

 

Lauren: The youth are the present and the future so therefore, I can say wholeheartedly that I’ve never been more empowered. It is quite incredible to watch people of all backgrounds come together and unite under a cause. It is not partisan or political, but simply human.

 

Isabel: I hear a lot about the negative aspects of social media on mental health, but how do you feel like the Internet can be used for positive change?

 

Lauren: While still acknowledging that the internet and social media can be incredibly detrimental to one’s mental health, I truly do believe it is an effective tool to utilize in order to reach others. It has become such a integral part of our society and we might as well utilize it. Social media is a platform that’s powered by people, and can echo people’s very best intentions, as well as their very worst. Those who seek to hurt others are emboldened by the internet, yet the same can be said for those who seek to help others and advocate for change.

 

Isabel: Totally. Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out or plans for the future?

 

Lauren: Aside from founding and leading Silencing the Stigma, I contribute to several youth led magazines named Lune, Reforming America, and Defiant, all of which advocate for positive and necessary change. I’m also a leader in my local chapter of Students Demand Action which is working to fight the epidemic of gun violence within our communities. Earlier this month, I worked with students from across the state of Florida and throughout the nation to plan a youth climate strike on March 15th, demanding that our lawmakers take substantial action to fight climate change.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Lauren: If we don’t speak up, who will? There is no one to fight for us, we must be the leaders for change. I urge you to utilize your platform to advocate for issues that you are passionate about. There is no right way to approach activism but it all begins with your voice. You have the power to create change simply by choosing to amplify your own voices and others around you. You are the change.

BRANDON LUCAS GONZALEZ

@1800brandonlucas

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I talked to Brandon Lucas Gonzalez, a 17 year-old mental health activist from New York City. We chatted about growing up in America, mental health relating to immigration, and social media.

 

Isabel: So, how do you believe that lawmakers can better support the immigrant community relating to mental health?

 

Brandon: Something that lawmakers could do to just make immigrant’s lives easier would be to understand what is going on in their home country. My country of the Dominican Republic has had some political turmoil and our neighboring country of Haiti has as well. Lawmakers just need to be more empathetic to the immigrant experience and what these people go through in their own nation.

 

Isabel: How do you feel like immigrant rights are intersectional with mental health?

 

Brandon: Immigration intersects greatly with the mental health conversation. I am a part of Silencing the Stigma, an online mental health resource that’s fighting for mental health awareness and as a person with an immigrant family, there is a lot of generational trauma. Growing up in America, I had to battle learning English and also reflecting on my own culture which was hard because I didn’t want to lose a part of myself, but you kind of have to know English to thrive in America which sucks. That is just one bit of it. For people immigrating first-generation, the things they have to go through in their home land are traumatic and then they come over here and find even more xenophobia. It’s just a challenge.

 

Isabel: Totally. You mentioned it briefly, but I know you do work with Silencing the Stigma and with Reforming America. What does it mean for you to be able to share your voice as a youth of color using social media platforms?

 

Brandon: Social media has always been a part of my activism. I grew up on Tumblr learning about all the things that affect me as a person of color or as a queer person. All of my understanding came from social media. I knew about suppression, but social media helped me learn more. It gave me a space to understand my own mental health. Being able to use my voice as a person of color in all of these spaces is kind of inspiring to myself.

 

Isabel: Yeah that’s awesome! What has been your most memorable experience as a youth activist and what lessons did it teach you?

 

Brandon: My most memorable youth activist experience happened a year ago. I was in Memphis at the 2018 Youth Action Summit and I was invited there because I had established myself as an activist in New York. I didn’t think much of it and was just like “yay I get to travel.” Having actually gone and participated in that summit, I can say that it was life-changing. I felt like I was where I belonged and so many people gave me helpful resources for the future. I am still friends with a lot of them.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on or any plans for the future?
 

Brandon: I am a part of the editing team for this blog called Amplifying Our Voice and it is just a space for people of color to speak about issues that affect us. I’m also thinking about writing another article for Reforming America and doing a sustainability project in the future.

 

Isabel: Very cool. I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Brandon: I would say to always be your true authentic self. In any space you show up in, know who you are, know where you came from, and stick to that always. Never water yourself down and build your own seat at the table.

ALYSSA CANCIANI

@alyssacanciani

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I talked to Alyssa Canciani, a 17 year-old mental health activist from Lehigh Acres, FL. We chatted about our society today, mental health stigmas, and gun violence.

 

Isabel: What has your experience been like with the youth mental health community and what have you learned about yourself through it?

 

Alyssa: My experience with the youth mental health community has been extremely eye-opening. I have learned that I need to take some time for myself every now and then. I have also learned that I have a deep passion for helping others and being a servant leader in society.

 

Isabel: As a young person, what do you think our society needs to understand about mental health awareness?

 

Alyssa: As a young person, I think in today's society we need to realize that mental health is real and the stigmas are very harmful. I would like society to understand that to be able to help other people you must be able to help yourself first. Also, that social media plays a major impact on mental health and your actions online can transfer into someone else's real life.

 

Isabel: That is absolutely true. Why were you inspired to start working with Silencing the Stigma and what does that movement mean to you?

 

Alyssa: I was inspired to start working with Silencing the Stigma because mental health isn't taken as seriously as it should be. I feel that the media underplays mental health and heavily stigmatizes it so I joined Silencing the Stigma to put an end to that, one conversation at a time.

 

Isabel: You are also very passionate about gun control. How do you feel like gun control and mental health are correlated with young people in the United States?

 

Alyssa: I feel like gun control and mental health play a major part in the young people of our society due to the trauma that has followed from gun violence. It also correlates with young people because those with severe mental illnesses sometimes view violence as their only escape when in reality, there are plenty of ways to seek help and recover.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out or plans for the future?

 

Alyssa: I'm currently a representative for the merchandise team at Silencing the Stigma and we are creating merchandise to start a conversation about mental health. Also, I'm starting a Youtube channel that showcases the daily life of an activist teenager in high school transitioning into college and dealing with the obstacles of today's society.

 

Isabel: That’s really cool! I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Alyssa: The advice I have for young people who want to speak out and change the world is that although many people will try to stop you, if you keep on pushing you will succeed. Every small action counts to something even if that is just making a post on your social media platform. We are so connected through our social media platforms so use them to your advantage and change the world!

RIYA KATARIA

@riyakatariax

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I had a great conversation with Riya Kataria, a 16 year-old mental health activist from Fremont, CA. We talked about speech advocacy, seeking radical change, and feeling your emotions.

 

Isabel: Tell me about Picket Fence Academy. What inspired you to start that organization and why do you believe the work is important?

 

Riya: I started this organization because I've always been someone with a loud voice. I'm lucky enough to come from a family that could afford to invest in public speaking education, but I'm one of the lucky ones. I know that it is one of the most valuable skills out there and I wanted to bring that to the community of those who may not be able to afford it.

 

Isabel: What have you learned about mental health as a young person through your work in the speech advocacy community?

 

Riya: I have depression. Plain and simple. I know that my experience is different from others, and I've learned from that. I've learned that mental health has such an intricate and multifaceted effect on people. This leads to different views/stigmas behind certain mental illnesses and we must fight the stigma for everyone, not just ourselves.

 

Isabel: You also work on the frontlines of so many political issues. Why do you believe that youth activism will change the world?

 

Riya: We are the future. We are seeing an uprising, a revolution of people from different backgrounds and beliefs uniting together under the title of justice. There is no future without us, and there is no us without seeing the future.

 

Isabel: What do you believe we should be teaching young people to help them feel comfortable growing and leading in our society?

 

Riya: We must mobilize. There was a time where we could sit back and do nothing, but in an increasingly divided country, we must take a stance. There is no staying neutral when it comes to the real world. If we teach our youth to lead, we have a genuine possibility to create the radical change we seek.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out?

 

Riya: Yes! I am currently planning a nationwide march for education through an organization that I founded called StudentsRise! We're currently looking for members of our executive team, so please apply at tinyurl.com/studentsriseteam and follow our Instagram @thestudentsrise.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Riya: I'd say that the most important thing is to feel your pain. Feel the anger when you are served injustice. Feel the frustration when it feels like nothing is working out. Feel the sorrow of your losses. Because while you may feel horrible, there is no denying that emotion is what fuels you to change the world.

NINA SCHUBERT

@nourishing.nina

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I talked to Nina Schubert, a 19 year-old mental health activist from Kent, OH. We discussed the positive side of social media, what recovery is really like, and ending the stigma.

 

Isabel: What does being an advocate for mental health mean to you?

 

Nina: To be an advocate, for me, is to be willing to talk about the good and the bad. If you are in recovery you are most likely going to have bad days and it is important to acknowledge them. You don’t have to share everything, but social media is usually a place where people show just positives. It’s important to show the good and the bad. It is important to learn and grow with each experience. It is important to own your mistakes and keep trying to learn.

 

Isabel: How do you believe that young people can break the negative stigma around mental health awareness?

 

Nina: I think that young people will break the negative stigma through social media and talking with others. So many young people these days are using their voices for change. Social media is a huge platform that so many of us use to talk about important issues and reach further than we can in person. Talking to people in person is just as important. Reaching out to people you know, correcting people when they have inaccurate information, ending negative jokes about mental health.

 

Isabel: You are very open on your social media about your eating disorder recovery. What do you think is the biggest misconception about being in recovery?

 

Nina: I think that biggest misconception that I have received is that I would go through treatment and be cured. Sometimes people think that treatment is one time and fixes all. Recovery is an everyday thing. You get up and you have to make sure you eat. You have to make sure that you don’t act on behaviors. Some days can be so hard and it can feel impossible to do basic things. Sticking to my therapy work and skills is what helps me.

 

Isabel: How do you think our society could better support young people when it comes to getting help for mental health?

 

Nina: I think that it is important to listen and let us feel heard. There are so many times I have been told that I am too young to understand or know what I am talking about. I think to help, it is important to share what we do know. The conversation is changing every day and we have come so far. Mental illness is more acknowledged and accepted, but we still have so far to go. It is important to show that you may not know, but you want to learn and try to understand; to be willing to learn new ways to talk and react.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out?

 

Nina: I started an organization called the Nightingale Project that I work on every day. We work to end negative stigma and help educate people on mental illness and give back to the community. We are working right now to create an event to promote self-love/body positivity and I am really excited about it.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Nina: Start however you know how. Talk to friends, share on social media, write about it, etc. Taking that first step can be scary and exciting. It might take time to reach the way you want, but even helping one person can start an avalanche of activity. Knowing that I can help one person with my words is worth it to me. You’ve got this.

© 2019 by Meddling Kids Movement