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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.