On April 30th, we hosted our kick off to Mental Health Awareness Month event, Creative Advocacy, in San Francisco. We honored five youth and adult advocates for their work to improve the lives of youth with mental health needs. At the event each awardee shared why mental health matters to them with our 220 guests. We’ll be sharing their inspiring messages of hope and determination throughout the month of May on our blog–because they’re messages worth spreading.
Chloe Sorensen, Young Leader Awardee
First off, I just want to thank Young Minds Advocacy for this honor and opportunity. Before I talk about what this award means to me, I’d like to talk about what mental health means to me.
When I was a freshman, I began to notice a troubling pattern: many of my friends were struggling with mental health issues, but they either did not have access to care, or were not comfortable seeking it. I felt obligated to act as their makeshift therapist, and I took it upon myself to try and carry the weight of their problems. When I saw someone hurting, I helped, no matter how difficult it may have been. I figured that if it meant saving a life, I had to do anything and everything I could to help.
As time went on, however, things only got worse. When I was a sophomore, one of my peers committed suicide. In the aftermath of tragedy, our school struggled to cope with a loss that left us with hundreds of ‘if only’s. If only we had reached out. If only we had been there for them more. If only we had told them how much we loved them. With hundreds of unanswered questions and no one to answer them, some of my friends started to lose hope. Someone once asked me, “why is it normal for us to wake up and find out that another one of our friends is dead?” Our friends were dying, and at times it felt like there was nothing we could do. However, I refused to accept that. I still refuse to accept that. I firmly believe that by working together, and by creating easy access to quality care, we can save lives.
It is this belief that resulted in the formation of the Student Wellness Committee, which strives to increase awareness for mental health issues and resources. We aim to reduce the stigma around seeking help and reduce barriers to care by creating easy ways for students to connect with counselors and other trusted adults on campus. The Student Wellness Committee has also partnered with a variety of wellness initiatives within the
Gunn high school is a school that I’m extremely proud to be a part of. Many people, as well as the media, have made assumptions and generalizations about who we are and what we stand for — but I can guarantee you that they are not seeing the whole picture. When I walk through the halls, I see a collection of individuals who are all trying their best, and who care about each other more than you will ever know.
My experiences at Gunn have helped me develop a greater sense of empathy — everyone has a story, and everyone deserves to have their story heard. When you know somebody’s story, it’s easier to figure out what they really need from you. In order to create positive change, we must listen to youth voice. It’s time that we start listening to our students, and empower them rather than silence them.
Although we may be young, I can assure you that age does not necessarily correlate with experience. For example, I’m 17. I am 17 years old and I need multiple hands to count the number of people I have lost to suicide.
Suicide has changed the way I view the world. It has made me more empathetic. It has taught me how to reach out and ask for help. It has taught me how to love more deeply and how to show that love every single day. It has also taught me not to take my friends’ and family’s presence for granted. As little as eight days ago, depression robbed me of yet another friend. A friend who inspired hope in so many others and was taken from us far too soon.
It breaks my heart that this terrible thing is still stigmatized and misunderstood, and that this has become a pattern in my life.
However, I am also grateful and inspired by my community’s resilience and strength.
This award is meaningful to me because it’s recognizing all the hard work our school community has put into healing and creating hope. This award isn’t just about me, because I couldn’t have made it to where I am today without all the amazing support I have at school and at home. I have a number of people here with me today, and I’d just like to take a moment to thank them for their endless support and strength over the past few years. When I lose motivation, they remind me why I do what I do. I will never stop fighting mental illness. I fight for myself, I fight for my friends, and I fight for the people that I have lost.
And I hope that you all will join me in the fight against depression by helping to increase awareness for mental health and lessening the stigma. When we empower youth and give them access to quality care, lives are saved. Thank you.
Chloe Sorensen is currently a student at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, where she serves as junior class president. Following the suicide of one of her peers in November 2014, she co-founded the Gunn Student Wellness Committee, with the intention of increasing awareness for mental health issues and resources. The committee aims to reduce the stigma around seeking help and reduce barriers to care by creating easy ways for students to connect with counselors and other trusted adults on campus. Throughout the past year, Chloe has also advocated for increased recognition of student voice within the school, district, and greater community. Her biggest dream is for all students in Palo Alto to have easy access to mental health care, as well as the ability to seek help without fear of judgement.
This speech was posted as a blog with the consent of the awardee.