According to the World Health Organization, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. These disorders are not limited to adults either. Children and teenagers around the world suffer every day. Shelly Bhagat, a rising high school junior from the St. Louis area noticed this issue and set out to help her peers. Her story is below:
Last year, I started an initiative with my friend, Siri Battula, called MIST (Mental Illness Support for Teenagers) to raise awareness of and educate people about the mental health crisis that my generation currently faces. Our ultimate goal is to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, which prevents many people from receiving treatment. Learn more about MIST here on our website.
This initiative sparked from my own experience of understanding mental health issues in middle school, where I first heard of the subject. At the time, I had several friends who were experiencing a mental illness, and I understood very little of what they were going through. Creating MIST was a way for me to learn about the issue and to use my knowledge to educate other students.
As a member of the South Asian community, I realized how stigmatized mental health issues are in our community. In April 2019, Siri and I worked to send a survey to high school students in India to test their knowledge of mental health issues using the information provided by our school counselor. Our worst suspicions were confirmed: a majority of the students had never heard of mental health issues before and had no idea what to do if they or a friend were faced with one. That summer, both of us were fortunate enough to travel to India and Singapore to give a presentation about mental health to high school students. This presentation covered the types of mental health issues and how students can receive help or help a friend who may be struggling with one.
This presentation was life changing for the students, as this was the first time many of them had ever heard of the subject. One thing that especially struck me was how enthusiastic the students were to hear about this issue from a student their age, rather than from an adult. In fact, a few students did come up to me after the presentation to tell me that this topic resonated with them more as it came from another student.
While our efforts abroad were successful, it became difficult to stay in touch with schools in India and Singapore from the United States. Due to this, we ended up shifting our focus to mental health issues in the US. We started by giving a presentation in Balvihar St. Louis, an Indian cultural center, to 8th, 9th, and 10th-grade students. However, presenting in the US was different than presenting abroad, as many schools here require students to learn about mental health issues.
We also created high school MIST chapters in schools in the St. Louis area, which will work to give presentations, raise money for local mental health charities, and participate in other activities to destigmatize mental illness. While this has been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, through our MIST chapters, we were able to release a newsletter about mental health and loneliness during this pandemic. This newsletter contains student perspectives about loneliness and mental health as well as a podcast review, artwork, and an interview with a psychotherapist. We hope to continue to release newsletters every few months, with a new mental health topic in each edition. Here is a link to our latest newsletter. Don’t forget to subscribe to our next one! If you are interested in getting involved with MIST or contacting me, please email me at email@example.com. Follow us on Instagram: @mist_teens and on Facebook: MIST Teens.
RPSV admires the work Shelly Shelly B., Siri B., and the MIST team has done for communities around the world. We congratulate for taking action to help others. If you have done work in mental health around your community, please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you!