Seeing my best friend in despair convinced me it's time to normalize conversations about mental health and increase access to quality resources and services for children and youth.
Content advisory: This story contains descriptions of self-harm. If you or someone you know struggles with self-harm, the following may be difficult to read. Mental health resources and information on seeking help can be found at the bottom of the page.
The author is a high school senior.
A pair of scissors inspired me. Lime green scissors, to be exact.
My best friend and I were stripped of face-to-face interaction due to the pandemic. Halfway through our sophomore year of high school, I noticed a change in her clothing; she wore only long-sleeved shirts, even in the sweltering heat. She soon confided in me and shared her self-harm story, expressing the emotional despair of COVID-19 on her mental health.
Her confession to self-injuries shocked me. To me, she was always the strong one, a brick wall that couldn't be penetrated. But that green pair of scissors penetrated her forearm and simultaneously changed my life by opening my eyes to the large number of youth that struggle with mental health issues.
We did hour-long video calls to stimulate healthier and light-hearted conversations, which helped normalize talks about mental health, break the stigma around it and encourage reaching out to loved ones who want to help.
Helping my friend overcome her self-harm attempts helped me become a passionate mental health advocate, normalizing mental health conversations and inspiring people globally that may be going through the same situation my best friend went through two years ago.
I started locally, within my school. When I created and distributed flyers to spread awareness on mental health near the bus lanes, I identified a vast ignorance from the student body as many crumpled the paper and threw it in the trash can two feet from where I stood.
Seeing this, I became determined to change this mindset by advocating further in my school and local community. This included booths at club fairs, outdoor events and service hour opportunities revolving around reducing mental health stigma. With the impact I made through these efforts as well as through my school's UNICEF chapter, I wanted to continue my efforts with UNICEF USA.
As a young advocate representing youth and UNICEF at the Building Hope Mental Health Strategy Summit in Washington, D.C., I shared my experience of providing support for mental health among youth, focusing on crisis response, emergency and parity.
For me, an opportunity to change the world opened up when I became one of 12 UNICEF USA National Youth Council members. As a young advocate representing youth and UNICEF at the Building Hope Mental Health Strategy Summit in Washington, D.C., I shared my experience of providing support for mental health among youth, focusing on crisis response, emergency and parity. I learned that half of all mental health disorders start before age 15, while on average it takes 11 years after symptoms emerge for an individual to get treatment. And even after an individual decides to seek help, there is typically a three-month wait time.
I took what I learned at this invaluable summit back to my school, inspiring change among my high school's 3,200-person student body and organizing numerous service activities designed to reduce the stigma around mental health while also spreading awareness about it. Over the past two years, I've seen students mindsets toward mental health change, allowing them to openly talk about mental health in a time of dire need.
Passage of the MINDS Act will ensure that mental health services are integrated into U.S. foreign assistance programming
Through national summits like these and meetings with Congressional representatives, I emphasize the importance of legislative bills, like the MINDS Act, through the UNICEF USA Action Center and annual appropriations to UNICEF while speaking on my personal experiences seeing close family and friends affected by mental health issues.
Because in my heart, I am constantly reminded of those lime green scissors, my best friend's struggle with mental health and the similar isolating circumstances of countless others worldwide.
It's time to stop the stigma. It's time to engage in meaningful discussions. And it's time to ensure everyone has access to the mental health resources and services they need — at every age. Take action and show that #MentalHealthMatters. Urge Congress to invest in the well-being of children and youth in the U.S.
Help is just a text or a phone call away
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, help is out there. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) HelpLine is a free, nationwide peer-to-peer support service providing information, resource referrals and support to people living with a mental health condition, their family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public. HelpLine staff and volunteers are experienced, well-trained and able to provide guidance. The NAMI HelpLine is not a hotline, crisis line or suicide prevention line.
The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. — 10 p.m. EST. Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text 'HelpLine' to 62640 or email email@example.com
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis, trained crisis counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: dial or text 988. Crisis counselors listen empathetically and without judgement. Your crisis counselor will work to ensure that you feel safe and help identify options and information about mental health services in your area.
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.