My struggle with mental illness helped me launch a support network for teens
High School senior founds The Love Catalyst to support students with a mental illness in the D.C. metro area
LearnServe International is a nonprofit organization that equips students with the entrepreneurial vision, tenacity, confidence, and leadership skills needed to tackle social challenges at home and abroad. The LearnServe Fellows program guides students as they design and launch social ventures, and this month, we are highlighting some of those projects.
Did you know, 1 in 5 children will suffer from a mental illness? Well, I am one of them.
I was unaware of mental health until I had an emotional breakdown my sophomore year of high school. It was so severe that my mother was forced to put me in a psychiatric health ward. When I was admitted, I suffered from depression, paranoia, and anxiety. I had never felt such a profound sense of terror. It felt like the grip of a snake wrapping around my body. It was all in my head, but nothing had ever felt so real. From this experience I ultimately grew stronger, but I did not do it alone.
During this trial my only hope and light was my mother, my Love Catalyst. She visited me every single day. When my kidney started to fail, she slept on a small, uncomfortable couch while I lay in a hospital bed. Her empathy, prayer, and encouragement helped me recover, but when I returned home and began school again, my struggles did not end. Various stigma associated with mental illness caused me to face social problems in school, and finding mental health resources was a nightmare. This experience galvanized me to help others with similar struggles.
Imagine if every person with a mental illness knew at least one person with the ability to provide direct support.
In 2016 I founded The Love Catalyst, an organization that supports high school students with a mental illness in the D.C. metro area. A Love Catalyst is someone who helps a struggling individual through practicing empathy and encouraging healthy behavior. My mother was the inspiration for my nonprofit. My current health is due to her unfailing support. Imagine if every person with a mental illness knew at least one person with the ability to provide direct support. The Love Catalyst was built on a fundamental belief in the power of empathy to help young people triumph over mental illness.
The Love Catalyst builds a bridge between high school students and mental health resources. The organization also encourages mental wellness. How do we accomplish this? First, we partner with organizations that have resources geared towards teens. Second, we host an annual mental health expo where students and families meet with representatives from these organizations. Third, we keep the conversation going about mental wellness and the resources available through social media platforms.
As a senior in high school, I have faced challenges to launching my organization. Yet I have been able to accomplish several key tasks. I have raised roughly $500, connected with over five mental health organizations, and formed a partnership with the office of D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue.
My work thus far has been made possible through the business and networking skills taught at LearnServe International, a nonprofit that teaches high school students social entrepreneurship skills. When I think about what I have been through and where I am today, it blows my mind. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself doing this type of work. It all started when I joined the LearnServe International Fellows Program. At the first program meeting, the cohort leaders asked us, “What makes you angry?” Then, they commanded us to do something about it. Through their guidance, my anger turned into passion and my passion turned into action.
On May 20, 2017 The Love Catalyst will honor Mental Health Awareness Month by hosting our first mental health expo titled Take 1 to Know 1 at School Without Walls High School in Washington, D.C. This is only the beginning.