Teen leader Aayushi Jain shares her experiences of leading a mental health workshop at the Riley’s Way Teen Leadership Retreat.
I like to think that the weekend of September 20th, 2019 was pure magic, but not because I turned 16 years old. It was because of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate my sweet sixteen at the Riley’s Way Teen Leadership Retreat in Shandaken, New York. Surrounded by inspiring and kind young female leaders from across the nation, I experienced a unique phenomenon: unity without uniformity. It was beyond empowering to see compassionate and energetic young leaders coming together to share visions, ideas, and stories and create positive change.
The Presentation of a Mental Health Workshop
At the retreat, I presented a workshop on mental health and technology with a good friend, Anika Nayak. From a behind-the-scenes exploration into the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why to introducing various new mental health technologies, the workshop provided great insight on innovation in the mental health landscape. First, we discussed and presented the context of the current mental health landscape.
We started with a brief discussion of Thirteen Reasons Why, a popular Netflix series that sheds light on mental health among high school students. Our discussion entailed how the series may be deemed as controversial; however, we all agreed that it spreads awareness of mental health among teens in society. Furthermore, we played a video clip of Dr. Rona Hu, a psychiatrist who advised the production of the show, discussing the relevance and importance of 13 Reasons Why among youth as I had the opportunity to interview her in person.
After introducing media and mental health, we dove into current mental health solutions. As an intern at Brainstorm, the Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation, I have conducted research in the intersections of mental health, technology, and innovation. Because many members of the audience were unfamiliar with the developments currently being made in technology to support people struggling with mental health, we aimed to help them understand the vast array of resources available for them.
Starting with virtual reality, we explained how interest in virtual reality is growing rapidly as it enables doctors to recreate situations for patients. This proves to be massively beneficial in PTSD and social anxiety treatments and advancing diagnostic procedures. Similarly, artificial intelligence is increasing in popularity with companies such as Woebot and Facebook because it takes advantage of the fact that technology allows for private explorations of personal topics. AI chatbots are being tested and companies are attempting to detect online signs of suicide as you read this article. Finally, we discussed digital therapy sites such as Happify and Talkspace and a few mental health apps that teens can download to help them on an everyday basis, including Calm, Headspace, and Trill.
The key takeaway is that technology has made access to healthcare easier than ever before. With a connection to the internet or tap of a screen, users can research, explore, discuss, practice, and combat mental health. First, treatment via technology generally requires less time, travel, and money than a visit to the doctor would. Second, technology allows for private experiences and this allows people who are uncomfortable talking about their mental health to get help. Third, technology makes it easier for doctors and patients to communicate, monitor progress, and pick up on behavioral changes. But the true relevance of technology for teenagers lies within social media.
We reminded our peers that social media allows for the creation of communities (LGBTQ and minority youth especially) and can be used to fight misinformation and raise awareness. To bring this all together, we shifted our focus to how social media giants such as Instagram and Pinterest are actively trying to combat negativity online and use their platforms to create positive change. Instagram has been experimenting with anti-bullying measures including the removal of the like button and warnings for users typing potentially hateful comments. In July 2019, Pinterest, in conjuncted with doctors at Brainstorm, implemented a series of wellness activities built into their app to guide users when they search up a keyword related to mental health
Finally, after introducing and examining all of these various advancements in media and technology, we left the girls with a few action items that they could take on to join the mental health movement. These action items included signing up to be a buddy with the BuddyProject, messaging senators to push for mental health policy reform, signing petitions, and most importantly, sharing stories.
I was able to share my story and vision for the world at this retreat, and I could not be more thankful for the opportunity to bring my message about mental health to a group of young women who will grow up to do incredible things. The retreat reminded me that life is about sharing wisdom, kindness, and embracing diversity, which are three things I hope nobody forgets.