Today is World Teen Mental Wellness Day. In honor of it, I want to share how school budget cuts inadvertently led me to take a closer look at the importance of mental health. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
In my sophomore year of high school, I wanted to quench my thirst for academic validation and take online AP Psychology to pile up on APs and boost my GPA as many high-achieving students strive to do. My school, however, did not offer the class that year due to changes in their budget as a result of the pandemic. So, administrators altered my schedule and placed me in Applied Positive Psychology, a topic I had never even heard of. I was initially very disappointed that I was stuck in this seemingly pointless class.
During the first few weeks of it, I was on autopilot and would often tune out because I thought the information discussed and mental health as an overall topic didn’t apply to me. But the one time I wasn’t half-asleep in class and actually paid attention I realized I was wrong.
For an assigned project, I had to analyze the book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor. I droned over the words as they meshed together in a sea of apparent nonsense when one snake of words made me stop and perk up. “Happiness is not the result of success—it’s the cause of it.” This was ground-breaking information for me as the reverse statement was constantly pounded into my ears from a young age.
My entire family is from Egypt and talk of mental health is taboo. In my culture, there is this fear of admitting to mental health issues and breaking the status quo of being strong, which is literally my last name in Arabic (Shedeed). I tried to ignore Achor’s words, but a lingering thought kept annoying me. Could it be possible to live both a successful and happy life? As I read on and learned more about mental health, I realized how it was always a prevalent issue in my life, and I began to recognize its importance. For instance, my cousins who would secretly take antidepressants revealed to me the harm of suffering in silence. My grandparents’ mood swings and increased outbursts after their split proved to me that mental health challenges are not just a creation by Gen Z. I now see that providing general information about mental health is necessary to truly change people’s mindsets and promote change which is needed to combat stigma and counteract the epidemic of mental health issues in this country.
On World Teen Mental Wellness Day, it’s important for teens (and everyone else) to prioritize mental health. Not every country is lucky enough to have a mental health infrastructure or even a society that has begun to address and foster conversations around teen mental health. That’s why I’m proud to be a part of NASSP’s NHS Student Leadership Network on Mental Health. I’m also proud that our network allows teens to convene in a safe and comfortable manner and discuss relevant topics that affect their mental health. Learning a simple fact about mental health or having an impactful conversation with teen facilitators about well-being can transform one’s perception about the overall topic—just like it did for me.
Learn more about the NHS Student Leadership Network on Mental Health at https://www.nhs.us/student-leadership-network/.