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9 Young Mental Health Activists You Should Know

“One thing that gives me hope is seeing young people step up and speak out about their challenges and their needs for change.”

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Date Published: April 30, 2021

The events of the past year have challenged young people in a lot of ways, including mentally and emotionally. Amid loss, isolation, and uncertainty, rates of anxiety and depression are rising among young people, particularly within BIPOC communities.

According to a recent survey from DoSomething Strategic, 46% of young people say they’d like to see more people talking openly about mental health issues. Here are nine young people doing exactly that, working to destigmatize mental health challenges through advocacy, education, and art.

1) Hailey Hardcastle, 19

(she/her)

As someone living with trauma-induced anxiety and clinical depression, Hailey Hardcastle understood the importance of mental health rest days in managing her wellbeing. While her mother supported her taking time from school to take care of her mental health, Hailey also recognized that not every student had the same privilege. Through Students for a Healthy Oregon, she set out to prioritize student mental health in a state where suicide is the leading cause of death for people ages 10-24. She campaigned for a bill that would allow students to take mental health days in the same way they’re allowed to for physical health issues. It was signed into law in June 2019.

2) Diana Chao, 22

(she/her)

When she was 13, Diana Chao was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and in the moments she felt most alone, she started to write letters to no one in particular. This sparked the creation of Letters to Strangers, a youth-led non-profit seeking to destigmatize mental illness. Members write anonymous, heartfelt letters to share their vulnerabilities and offer support for those who are fighting through difficult times. From her perspective as a suicide attempt survivor, Diana believes in the power of human connection and empathy to help heal and save lives.

3) Michelle Oyoo Abiero, 18

(she/her)

In 2017, Michelle Oyoo Abiero co-founded Project Fmile to raise awareness for mental health and suicide in Kenya. Through the organization, Michelle leads various campaigns and forums to educate students on psychological triggers like bullying, body image, sexual assault, and more. They also partner with psychologists and psychiatrists to provide mental health resources and referrals to their audience. So far, over 100 young Kenyans have used Project Fmile’s online therapy referral and support group, and Michelle’s ultimate goal is to offer ongoing mental health services to communities at low or no cost.

4) Satvik Sethi, 23

(he/him)

Growing up feeling isolated and excluded, Satvik Sethi turned to the internet to find and offer mental health support. He connected with other young people struggling with self-harm and bullying like him, and the community he found inspired him to create the app Runaway. The platform provides a safe space for young people to discuss mental health, make friends, and access resources. Through Runaway, Satvik is trying to stop generational stigmas against mental illness and “make the world a happier place.”

5) Hannah Lucas, 18

(she/her)

After being diagnosed with a chronic illness, Hannah Lucas saw it impact all areas of her life -- including her mental health. As a result, she and her brother Charlie designed the notOK app, a virtual panic button that notifies trusted contacts to get you immediate support when you’re struggling to reach out. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, Hannah continued to advocate for young people’s mental health by hosting a wellness-focuses virtual prom event for teens feeling stressed and isolated during the crisis.

6) Tyler Smith, 22

(he/him)

On April 6, 2018, Tyler Smith and his junior hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos, were on their way to a play-off game when their bus was struck by a semi-truck. He lost 16 of his teammates, staff members, and coaches, while he and 12 others survived. While recovering from the accident, Tyler learned to care for his mental health alongside his physical health, and in navigating his grief, he eventually realized that it’s okay not to be okay. Now, he speaks publicly about his experiences and encourages others to seek help when they need it.

7) Juan Acosta, 23

(he/him)

Juan Acosta finds power in storytelling, and he readily shares his experiences growing up gay in an immigrant family in the hopes that it resonates with others struggling with their own identities. Juan understands that LGBTQ people face disproportionate mental health challenges, with 40% of LGBTQ youth having seriously considered suicide and 68% experiencing symptoms of anxiety disorders. That’s why he’s become a mental health advocate within the LGBTQ community, and he’s worked with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky program, and Mental Health America’s Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council to bring these issues to the forefront in tackling youth mental health.

8) Sophia Badhan, 20

(she/her)

Sophia Badhan’s journey in advocacy began after she was hospitalized in 2016 for anorexia nervosa and clinical depression. In her recovery, she began to campaign for early intervention and accessible mental health treatment for young people in the UK. Sophia has designed and delivered mental health workshops for students, fundraised for youth mental health services, and spoken to over 300 medical professionals about the unique needs of young people in mental health care. Her work has earned her the Diana Award, the WMCA Mental Health Super Star Award, and the British Citizen Award for Healthcare.

9) Te Manaia Jennings, 21

(she/her)

Drawing and painting are “forms of therapy” for Te Manaia Jennings, who found herself struggling with depression and anxiety after being diagnosed with congenital scoliosis and receiving several spinal surgeries. Her artwork is heavily influenced by her mental health challenges, as well as her Māori culture, and it’s led to opportunities for Te Manaia to speak up about body image and mental and emotional wellbeing.

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