© 2019 by Meddling Kids Movement 

Mental Health

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

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.