Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide.
Diana Chao, Active Minds Speaker, was one of a select group of young adult mental health leaders chosen to take part in the inaugural Mental Health Youth Action Forum at the White House. A first-generation Chinese-American immigrant and graduate of Princeton University, Diana has candidly spoken about her own experiences with mental health, including bipolar disorder, as well as her innovative initiatives to end the stigma around mental health and connect young adults globally to lead these conversations.
“When I was 13, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder that also gave me an eye disease that made me permanently, episodically blind. And it was when my little brother found me during my final suicide attempt that I started writing letters to strangers,” Diana explained during the hour-long discussion she and other youth advocates had with Dr. Biden, actress and advocate Selena Gomez, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy. Letters to Strangers was founded when Diana was a sophomore and has now grown to be the largest global youth-for-youth mental health nonprofit, impacting over 35,000 people each year. She shared that the power behind this organization is built on empathy and human connection, stating, “I realized that even though for so long, so many of us feel alone, it is that power of not just storytelling, but the implicit story listening that happens when someone hears you, sees you, and is caring about you.”
This peer-to-peer model of support is also what Active Minds is built on. As a speaker, Diana regularly connects with audiences to share her story, offer messages of hope, and remind individuals from all backgrounds that they are not alone. Now, she’s taking her message even further. Letters to Strangers created the world’s first youth-for-youth mental health guidebook, as well as the first toll-free pan-African mental health hotline. Both of these efforts will help to continue to make mental health more accessible for all, rather than a luxury for a few.
“At the end of the day, what we need to do is not just be reactive to mental illness, but proactive about mental well-being,” said Diana. We all have mental health, and we can all benefit from checking in on each other, pushing for increased access and availability of mental health resources, and taking care of ourselves to the best of our ability. Through her work, Diana is just doing that.
Photo Credit, Second Image: Getty Images