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#ChildrenCopingInACrisis: 7 Youth Activists Talk About Their Mental Health Battles

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TW: This article talks about suicide.

Mental health, as we know it, is still viewed as a taboo in our society. This deeply entrenched culture has meant that the new generation of children and youth, suffering from serious mental illnesses are sometimes unable to express themselves or seek timely help.

But, as the dark cloud of mental health descends upon communities, there is a silver lining. There are many courageous children and youth, who have battled it head-on, not shied away from seeking help and shared their stories, only with the intention to help others like themselves.

Here are 7 youth activists who shared their personal stories of battling mental health through Ted Talks.

1. “How My Failed Attempts Became My Biggest Success.”: Shraddha Shankar

Shraddha Shankar is a student who has suffered from mental illness for the majority of her life and has survived 13 suicide attempts over the course of her adolescence years.

In a powerful talk at TEDxUIUC, she shared her story with the public for the first time, where she spoke about the struggles she faced growing up with a severe mental disorder, and her secret to finally finding recovery. Shraddha studies statistics in Illinois and is an Executive Education Chair in the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Illinois Chapter.

After enduring her own hardships, she hopes to empower and educate those who suffer from mental illnesses to help them meet their goals, regardless of the struggles they face. She is in part of creating a nationally utilized suicide prevention program required for all incoming freshman.

2. “Conquering Depression–How I Became My Own Hero”: Hunter Kent

Hunter Kent, a senior at Cape Elizabeth High School, spent many of her teen years battling depression, a condition that is often easy to hide and difficult to acknowledge. She courageously shared her profound journey from despair to peace, and how she now uses her past suffering to connect and empathize with her fellow students in need of encouragement and hope.

In her talk, she shared how a summer camp leadership program, where she initially refused to go, changed her life for good. She mentioned, how she took a chance to share all her depression and anxiety issues with a bunch of people she hardly knew anything about, made her overcome all her fears and, made her feel loved and cared.

In her school, she was a member of the Natural Helpers Program. As a part of the program, this is a group of students can go to if they are experiencing stress or more such intense problems. She said, “Talking to people has been one of the best things for me.”

3. Tales From A Teenage Mental Health Advocate: Amanda Southworth

Fifteen-year-old Amanda Southworth, discussed how her struggle with mental illness and suicidal thoughts inspired her to start coding. She used this outlet as a tool to develop apps designed to help others stop suffering in silence and find the courage to reach out and change their life. To her surprise, however, her apps not only helped others but gave her a purpose and a reason to stick around.

Amanda Southworth is a programmer, designer, and creator of the apps, Anxiety Helper and Verena. She has been coding since she was 10-years-old and created both of her apps when she was just 15. Her apps are designed to provide safety, information, and emergency help to those who are struggling with mental illness (AnxietyHelper) or are a member of the LGBTQ+ community and need emergency support (Verena).

In 2017, Amanda won the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) Scholarship from Apple. She also worked with Teen Vogue to write articles about her experience at WWDC, and report live from the event. A born problem-solver, Amanda is passionate about using her privilege and experience to help those who don’t have that same privilege. She is committed to using the platform she’s growing to spread a message that (hopefully) helps others too.

4. The Prevalence Of Mental Illnesses In Youth: McKenna Knapp

The pressure to achieve “perfection” in high school is intense. Surveys across the world share data of students suffering from anxiety and other pressures as they try to cope with life as they grow up. Being an active member of many groups in and outside school, McKenna explored how a positive mindset could change a person’s life.

McKenna was a senior at Edina High School. She has been an active member of her community, serving on the Edina Community Health Commission, the Edina Education Fund, and Keith Ellison’s Congressional Student Advisory Council.

She has been a leader in her high school as a Lacrosse Captain and President and Founder of three clubs: The American Red Cross Club, The Buzz, and Sit With Us Edina Chapter. Through these positions, she worked to create an inclusive atmosphere in her high school.

5. The Truth About Teen Depression: Megan Shinnick

Through her own story, social activist Megan Shinnick points out the misconceptions and actual importance of depression, as well as the societal flaws responsible for the increase in the illness among teens. Perhaps the increased pressures put on students create the situation, while the majority of schools don’t have the necessary resources to aid students who suffer depression or anxiety. Through her talk, Megan appeals to each person in the audience to make a difference in the way they both view and deal with depression.

Megan Shinnick is a junior at Wellesley High School. She enjoys theatre and singing, as well as going to entrepreneurship classes led by Babson College. Megan has already created two successful non-profit organizations and was chosen as Boston’s Young Entrepreneur of the Month.

 6. Casually Suicidal: What Now?: Sarah Liberti

Sarah Liberti was in her fourth year studying for her Bachelor of Arts in Music Education at Adelphi University (having transferred from Suffolk County Community College) when she delivered this talk.

For her talk, Casually Suicidal: What Now, she drew inspiration from simply scrolling through social media. “It was heartbreaking to realize how many people passively or actively post about death,” she said. “Social media is a credible way of interacting with others and expressing yourself in the 21st century. It seems like writing or joking about wanting to die has become just as ‘normal’ as posting about your day.”

Whether it is as a music teacher or in another capacity, Liberti intends to dedicate herself to helping others express themselves, feel safe and find solutions to serious internal and external struggles.

7. “How I Overcame Depression By Just Sitting Around”: Jonathan Schoenmaker

Jonathan Schoenmaker struggled with depression. With the best intentions, his friends and family would try to help by saying all the wrong things. In the end, Jonathan found the best way for him to experience happiness. As it turned out, what he needed most wasn’t what everyone told him it would be.

Jonathan’s talk is about his experience of suffering years of depression and the steps one can actually take to try and help people with this serious disease. Today, he is a big advocate of raising awareness for mental health. He spends a lot of time talking to people suffering from mental health issues whether it’s over social media or in a bar. Helping people is his priority and he feels like this is his best way of doing that.

He gave a TEDx talk at TEDx Delft back in 2018, the video of this talk has now reached over 200K views and he couldn’t be more thrilled about the feedback and positive reactions he gets from all sorts of people.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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