Mental Health Awareness Starts With You: High School Mental Health Prep

Sriya Datla
Sriya Datla

Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicidal ideation.

During my freshman year of high school, I felt lost. Looking back, I see myself as a young girl trying her best to support a best friend struggling with suicidal ideation but not knowing where to turn. I see someone scared, lacking support, and not fully understanding mental health crises. Now, as a rising junior, I don’t just see mental health in isolation, as a problem only I was dealing with. I see a whole community around me. I see an entire room full of students with inspiring mental health stories to share. I see a community full of empathy, care, and compassion to foster mental health awareness and support in my school.

High school, along with its other challenges, is also a bridge to cross from teenager to adult. This transition is full of physical and emotional barriers to overcome and decisions to make. From finding our passion to learning about what issues we truly care about, high school is that life-changing period of time that has a huge impact on our self-confidence, goals and aspirations, and mental and emotional well-being. Despite this, many students ignore their true feelings and tell themselves to “Toughen up,” and get over it – we don’t always know the right way to talk about mental health, even with ourselves.

This is especially true coming from an Asian American background where mental health is often overlooked. I remember feeling confused about where to start speaking out for my best friend. Then, I found Active Minds. Through Active Minds, I learned the importance of mental health awareness – especially in school – and how to educate myself and my club members about creating that awareness schoolwide. The tool V-A-R®, or Validate, Appreciate, Refer, specifically guided me in starting safe mental health conversations with my peers and classmates which were once difficult to steer. I knew I wanted to share what I had learned – so, I started an Active Minds chapter for my school.

As a freshman, being the founder and president of the Active Minds Chapter at my new high school during the COVID-19 pandemic was definitely challenging. I had to be resilient and adapt to the virtual setting which made planning engaging conversations difficult. However, I knew I couldn’t give up because of my best friend. Because of my classmates and peers. And most importantly, I couldn’t give up because I needed to speak up for everyone who felt they couldn’t on their own. Therefore, I persevered because mental health meant so much to me, as a student, daughter, friend, and person deserving of mental health support.

From hosting deep mental health discussions to simply asking our club members how their day went, I started each meeting with a huge smile and a goal to help someone out. More and more students started opening up about their struggles once they started realizing that Active Minds was a safe space open for anyone. Those moments were the definition of success to me and where I felt all my hard work paid off in order to create a mental health community and foster a deeper awareness at our high school. 

Through creative programs such as gratitude card writing, small group discussions about mental health, and campus-wide events, our Active Minds chapter continued and had a successful school year despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Our chapter even won the “Excellence in High School Mental Health Advocacy” award at the 2022 Active Minds National Conference. My chapter changed the way my classmates and I viewed mental health in school – and now, as we begin a new school year, I invite you to see the potential for impact for yourselves. Active Minds has committed to bringing their peer-to-peer programming, the same resources I used, to 1,000 new K-12 schools in the next 1,000 days. You can be part of this change

Finally, here is some advice I would like you to keep in mind when it comes to you and your own well-being: you are unique. You are loved. You are special. Stay true to yourself because, at the end of the day, you are the author of your own book. You’re the one who should look back at your life and say that you are happy with the life you’re leading. Not someone else – just you. There is a purpose for you in this world and just because you feel that you haven’t found it yet, doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. Don’t give up. Keep on persevering. And most importantly, keep on being yourself.