When it comes to teenage mental health, there may not be a better authority than teens themselves. That’s why Stanford University’s Children’s Health Council reached out to Bay Area high school students to form the Teen Wellness Committee.
That was two years ago. Last month, members of the committee – which includes students from Los Altos, Mountain View, St. Francis and Gunn highs – released “Just a Thought,” a book comprising stories and anecdotes from Bay Area teens, unfiltered and candid about the struggles of mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression.
“(When brainstorming), everyone threw out random ideas, and we just let the suggestions develop or die out,” said Ethan Du, a rising senior at St. Francis High. “We kept coming back to the ideas that we liked and eventually settled on a short guidebook. We gathered stories by spreading surveys in our schools, across social media and through other networks so that we could gather as many different views as possible.”
The book is separated into four sections, each targeting a different group that influences teens’ mental health: To Friends, To Parents, To Educators and To Me. Each section features statistics and a series of letters written and collected by area teens, obtained through surveys and panels conducted by members of the committee. The committee calls on all of the groups to become active participants in aiding those with mental health problems.
“I tried to write as little as possible,” said Danny Howell, who graduated from Palo Alto High in June. “The purpose of the book was not to write, ‘What I think is this, we as a committee think this, and here are people backing us up.’ I saw it more as, ‘This is what people are telling us, this is what people are experiencing, and we’re just going to use our book and our organization as a platform to show you what is really happening.’”
In the eyes of the committee, what makes the project even more powerful is that it is compiled by teens for teens.
“The project is almost 100 percent student driven, which is the beauty of this project,” said Nadia Ghaffari, who graduated from Los Altos High in June. “It’s the youths’ voice for the youth.”
Added Du, “Mental health issues can be isolating, but the book allows teens to see that they are not alone, and that many other teens have the same issues, too. It is also much more comforting knowing that the information is presented by a group of teens who want mental health issues to be known among their peers, rather than a few adults who impersonally tell the information to teens like another PSA.”
Du, Howell and Ghaffari are among the 19 students who make up the committee, which also includes Mountain View High seniors Valeria Gonzalez and Renee Remsberg, St. Francis High graduated senior Lindsay Royce and Gunn High senior Meghna Singh. Since its inception, the group has worked to spark conversation about the issue and hopes to increase awareness in members’ communities about the dangers of letting mental health discussions lie dormant.
Last year the committee launched the campaign “Speak Mindfully,” which strives to raise awareness of using appropriate language when discussing mental health.
Now comes the book, available online as an e-book for a suggested donation of $25 at chconline.org/donate.
Anyone experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts is urged to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255. Trained counselors can be reached on the Crisis Text Line by texting “BAY” to 741741.