Mental Health for Every Adolescent

Project Size: Large, >$1,000
Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $1,700

Letter of Intent:

Background Life as a high school student is not easy. Between all assignments, extra-curriculars, maintaining a social life and other commitments, students often experience deteriorating mental health as a result of the immense amount of stress trying to juggle everything. The fact that mental health is stigmatized and considered somewhat taboo makes it very hard for those who need help to ask for it. The average American takes almost 10 years to seek treatment for mental illness. Public stigma results in discrimination, reduced autonomy and self-efficacy and segregation. The secrecy and stigma associated with mental illnesses often thrust sufferers into a feeling of isolation. If left untreated, mental health issues in children can have important ramifications, bleeding into adulthood and adversely affecting their lives. Thus, there is an urgent need to start and normalize conversations about mental health issues. Inspired to make a change, we started an initiative called Mental Health for Every Adolescent (MHEA). MHEA is a student run and student led initiative that aims to destigmatize mental health issues. We recruit high school students in India and the middle east to conduct workshops in their schools. Our team, comprising of 11 UW undergraduates here in Seattle, conducts workshops in high schools in the city’s public school system. These workshops were created by students on our team with who are also Peer Health Educators, with the help of Megan Kennedy, the Interim Director of the Resilience Lab on campus. Additionally, during the current COVID-19 pandemic, we created a guide to help high school students manage stress due to quarantine fatigue and isolation and equipped them with strategies to better manage their mental health during this time. Our guide is currently being used public school districts in Plano, TX, Belmont and Palo Alto, CA, Seattle, Bothell and Northshore, WA, Philadelphia, PA and Southborough, MA and have been received with a lot of enthusiasm and support. Proposal Over the past year, MHEA has been able to reach out to several schools in the Seattle community and has been able to host mental health workshops in these schools to a lot of positive feedback and requests for more workshops at these schools. With our success so far, we wish to expand further and deliver these workshops to even more schools in the state of Washington. Given the feedback we have gotten on our COVID-19 guide, we are inspired to take our work out of state, so we can help as many students seek help with their mental health issues as possible. A major barrier we currently face in expansion around the Seattle community is that public transport options to several schools are unfeasible for us as volunteers. The low cost public transportation at our disposal to schools past Downtown Seattle is very time consuming. Being full-time students at the university and juggling other commitments outside of classes, our team members are hard pressed for time and often cannot spend the 1-2 hours required to commute to a school in south Seattle, for example. Our classes often overlap with requested workshop times in several schools. We require a faster method of travel to reach out to more schools in the area and beyond. Therefore, we propose to use the SEED grant to help us cover travel expenses so we can reimburse our student volunteers for local travel. Additionally, this grant will facilitate travel for us to cities out of state and conduct workshops in schools that requested workshops after using our COVID-19 guide. MHEA’s mission is to empower students to seek the help they need with any mental health issues they may have. In our endeavor to fulfil our mission, we email school authorities to initiate a channel of communication through which we can talk about conducting workshops for their students. However, this is often a time-consuming process since we often have to start fresh with every school. We believe that with some help with PR, we will be better positioned to let schools know about the work we do. Additionally, this will help us reach more schools in the community. Lastly, we propose to use a part of this grant for printing materials and graphic design. A big selling point of our workshops is their interactive nature, which stimulates thought provoking discussion among our students and gets them to engage with our material. This often involves activities, materials and resource sheets we pass around the class. Given the number of students we have in all our workshops, printing costs for these materials quickly add up. We also put a lot of effort into our presentation to make our materials visually appealing to our students, since we believe a good first impression can hook the students’ attention from the get-go. To this end, we would like to work with a graphic designer and anticipate associated costs. We propose to use a part of the funds we receive to offset these expenses. Evaluation We will be evaluating our progress by keeping track of our reach to multiple schools and interest they show in having us come back. Additionally, we will be looking at the number of new volunteers that join us. We will also be assessing the quality of our workshops and their impact by sending pre- and postworkshop surveys to our audience to understand how much students are benefiting from these workshops and what else we can do to cater to their needs. For example, it was through this form of feedback that we learned that students wanted topics such as peer pressure and eating disorders added to our initial workshops. We intend to continue to keep this mode of evaluation open. We have been taking feedback in class from both counsellors and students in high schools we have previously conducted workshops in. This feedback is usually verbal right after we finish a workshop, we plan to continue this method of feedback as well. After combining feedback from counsellors and students we will be able to access the impact of our work and guide the content of our future workshops from there. Impact Through this project, we hope to increase awareness on mental health and promote conversations on the topic. Our ultimate goal is to destigmatize mental health issues and create a safe and inclusive community in schools where students can openly discuss mental health. This grant will greatly help us in expanding our initiative to the greater Seattle community and will result in us being able to build stronger connections with schools and create a stronger network of volunteers. By educating students on topics such as stress, anxiety, depression, peer pressure, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and other such topics, we are encouraging students to take better care of themselves so they can turn their attention to academics and maximize their potential in school. Our long term goal is to also partner with government bodies to implement a uniform curriculum for mental health in schools which we know is lacking, at least in the Seattle Public School district. By accomplishing our mission, we will successfully promote the United Nation’s goals to work towards sustainable health and well-being, quality education and effective partnerships with people who can implement effective change. I believe that great leaders encourage others to find the leader within themselves and I do this by providing my team the resources, means and freedom to use this platform and find their voice. Not only will this project help us further work towards our passion, but this will also be a great opportunity for each and every one of us on the team to become better leaders and advocate for ourselves and for others.

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Sairandri Sathyanarayanan