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The young people telling their stories for others' wellbeing

Words by Tess Becker

These days it's easy to fall into a mental health spiral. The world is still reeling from the pandemic, there’s the ongoing and existential climate crisis, in the United States politics is increasingly divisive and the cost of living continues to rise. 

As the world becomes harder to live in, improving your mental health and internal environment are becoming more essential, and Minding Your Mind is one source of help. 

Minding Your Mind was founded in 2007 after a personal experience for their founders revealed the lack of mental health education available to young people and their parents or caregivers. It launched with an annual community forum, where two young people came forward to say, ‘I'd like to speak about my experience.’ 

That's when they developed a program for young adult speakers to share their personal stories of lived experiences on a peer-to-peer level with school pupils. Their work destigmatizes mental health struggles while providing educational opportunities. 

In their first year, they had about 30 programs and in 2022-2023 they had over 2,000.

“We share our own personal stories,” Sarika Agarwal, one of the speakers, tells Smiley News. “We go through how it came about and what it looks like, if we reach a point of crisis - in my case, I did - how we had a turning point of wanting to seek help, where we are at now, and ways that people can ask for help breaking that stigma.”

Programs are especially important now, following the pandemic where many young people are struggling with their mental health so badly that it's compounded into a crisis. 

“We’re seeing really high rates of suicide and depression, and this has been going on for a while,” said psychologist Kimberly Hoagwood, Ph.D., a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “It certainly got worse during the pandemic.”

Minding Your Mind isn’t limited to storytelling. In order to help with mental health they have multiple programs centered on teaching people of all ages how to better handle their internal environment. All that said, their largest demographic is still early teenagers, around middle school age. 

“I think the reason for that is because that's when kids are really starting to struggle with mental illness,” Sarika says. “It comes on very early and at the same time, that's the age when mental health is the most minimized. ‘Oh, it's just hormonal. You're just growing up. It's not a big deal.’ And because at that age, they're not being addressed it turns into a point of crisis later.”

Sarika herself has spoken in about 200 schools around the country and has reached about 25,000 people. There are numerous other speakers who also share their stories via Minding Your Mind. 

“I didn't even realize what a big impact it was going to have in general not just on other people but on me,” Sarika says. “It just showed me how powerful it is to share your own story and it's really rewarding because when I was going through all of these things I used to ask myself: ‘Why me, what's the purpose,’ but being able to share my story and then have it impact someone else? It makes my struggles make a lot of sense.”

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Path Home. This organization helps families facing homelessness in Portland, Oregon. Find out more and support them here

Hope South Florida. They help people affected by homelessness across the tri-county South Florida. Find out more. 

National Coalition for the Homeless. They aid homeless people around the country through their many branches. Support them here. 

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs