Founder of TeenSelfHealth discusses their journey to mental health advocacy
We are all on our own mental health journey. For me, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety at the age of 5, which manifested into selective mutism in early years of my education. Over time, as I grew older, I learned to cope with it and do my best to mask my discomfort in public. Time and help from family, friends and professionals have helped me to blossom into someone who I never imagined I would become- an advocate for mental health. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a resource called Teen Link that my entire trajectory of mental health changed. (Home - Teen Link). Teen Link is a mental health crisis line for teenagers in Washington state. It is run solely by teens who answer incoming calls and chats with teens anonymously seeking help. I was in awe of the work that these courageous volunteers were doing and got involved in eighth grade. After 100 hours of training, I became a phone worker. It opened my eyes to the broad impacts of mental health on teens. While volunteering I have heard stories that have kept me up at night; I discussed high acuity topics, suicide, eating disorders, drug, and substance abuse, and so many things that taught me about the complexity of teenager’s lives. Fast forward to today- my vision is to go into a career with mental health combined with technology to scale similar impact to drive meaningful change like Teen Link showed me.
Teen Link has had an incredible impact on my life. Something I learned on Teen Link is the limited resources available to teens across the country to discuss mental health challenges. I began working with Parent Map, a Seattle Family Resource publication, (ParentMap | Seattle Activities for Kids and Family Resources) cohosting webinars (COVID-19 Is Harming Teens’ Mental Health — Parents, You Can Help | ParentMap), and contributing to articles ((COVID-19 Is Harming Teens’ Mental Health — Parents, You Can Help | ParentMap), about the rise of mental health issues that surfaced early in the pandemic, and how parents can help.
After learning about the struggles of youth in my own state, I created a resource for teens from the perspective and voice of a fellow teen: Teen.Self.Health (Home | teen.self.health (teenselfhealth.com). I decided that I wanted to create a website that spoke on the raw struggles with mental health for teens from a teen perspective-something that didn’t seem to get enough coverage. The website is rich with resources, stories and tips for teens on building resiliency, coping techniques and stories. I am most proud of the site blog (The Blog! | teen.self.health (teenselfhealth.com)) where I have invited mental health professionals and individuals that worked with teens to write their perspectives on teen mental well-being and self-care. Except for this post, where I share my story! One of my favorite pieces was from a mental health advocate, pediatrician and creator of the documentary “Screenagers”, Delaney Ruston. Delaney and I had worked together for years in her program called Boosting Bravery (Home | Boosting Bravery), where you pair with younger girls around the country and act as a mentor; teaching them different seminars on tacking mental health throughout your older teen years. Delaney generously wrote a blog post for me called “The Social Media Dopamine” (The Social Media Dopamine (teenselfhealth.com)) discussing the dangers that social media can put teens in, and how to be cautious. My goal for the website was to get it on school district pages around my state as a resource for teens. I began outreach on website promotion at the peak of the pandemic, and mental health was at rock-bottom. My counselor worked directly with me on PTSA meetings, school district boards to get my website put on districts sites, and we did just that – across district websites, health services, and individual high school pages. My ultimate goal is to have it posted in each of the school districts in my state to ensure it is accessible to all teens in my state. I am proud to see the number of visitors growing daily with a recent peak of 5,000 in one day.
From there the opportunities continued to grow. I was invited to give mental health presentations for all staff at my high school, then the PTSA, followed by the entire school board. I spoke with the superintendent about the opportunity for schools to get more involved Thursday Thoughts: Women's History Month, Inglemoor Student Raises Mental Health Awareness, Student Justice Conference and More | Superintendent Blog Post (nsd.org). The Seattle Times reached out to a story (Helping teens in the Seattle area through loneliness, stress and more | The Seattle Times). From there, CBS news reached out to film a segment, of which we are currently working on scheduling.
Returning to high school in-person presented the opportunity to do more. I started a mental health and well-being club called Caressential Club (Inglemoor Caressential Club (@ihscaressentialclub) • Instagram photos and videos). The goal of this club was to establish a vibrant, desirable school community that educates and supports individual wellbeing through presentations, resources, events, and student connections. The club provides a venue where students can come together in a safe peer-to-peer space and dispel the myth around self-care, and teach teens techniques that can be used at any time. I run club meetings 2x month where we check in with one another and work on projects, fundraisers, and activities such as vision and affirmation boards.
Fast forward to today. I have packaged up the Caressential club so that other schools can easily start and run their own clubs. Directly downloadable from my website high schools can now access the Caressentials Club in-a-box with all the club formation and meeting resources to easily establish and run the club. While high schools can run club meetings with little to no investment, I have established my site as a non-profit and started a GoFundMe to raise funds to donate to schools that require additional funding to put change into action.
I am extremely honored and grateful to have the opportunity to continue to advocate for youth mental health, and will continue to teach youth that its okay to not be okay.