For Mental Health Awareness Month, GirlUp hosted a crucial Girl Talk conference. The online event focused on the importance of mental wellness while also sharing resources. Its overall goal was to tear down social stigmas surrounding mental illnesses and showcase ways everyone can openly discuss mental health care.
Born This Way Foundation
The first speaker was Cynthia Germanotta. Her last name may sound familiar to you; she is the mother of pop icon Lady Gaga who has been very transparent about her mental health struggles.
Together this mother and daughter team created the Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit centered around mental wellness for young people. They provide a community for those needing assistance and share preventative measures for various mental health challenges. The foundation’s website is full of resources, like self-care tips, different support numbers to call in a crisis, crisis text lines, body image hotlines, therapy, bullying, and much more.
Cynthia pointed out the miscorrelation between mental health and overall health. When most people hear health, they mainly think of physical fitness. While your physical wellbeing is important, immediately jumping to that assumption causes us, as a society, to neglect the mental and emotional.
Once we allow people to have these conversations about mental health, they will feel more fulfilled in life. In most cases, overlooking mental health can manifest in other areas, like performance at work/school, relationships, and even how the body reacts to stress.
Open and Honest Mental Health Discussion
GirlUp then introduced two of their teen advisors, Angela and Mwansa. The two girls discussed how they have been faring and adapting to the many recent changes in their lives. They transitioned into college life during the pandemic, which was not easy. The challenges they faced during 2020-2021 are important to talk about, and while simply discussing seems like a small act, it is a meaningful way to helps both individuals and their communities heal.
We often shy away from these interactions out of fear, but Angela and Mwansa showed how easy and straightforward these talks could be. Their discussion was a prime example of the conversations everyone should regularly have to support themselves and others.
Mental Health Awareness Panel
Angelina, another GirlUp teen advisor, then mediated a discussion among a mental health awareness panel. She was part of a groundbreaking movement in her state that proposed students be allowed to take mental health days, and the absences are counted as excused. Also on the panel were three other strong advocates for mental health and care:
Maliha is the founder of The Story of Mental Health. Her organization focuses on the mental health struggles of young women of color. Being a Pakistani-American herself, she understands how it can be difficult for immigrant and/or brown women to use their voices to discuss these topics as mental health is still considered taboo in these areas.
Maliha’s website shares resources and stories by women about their journey on choosing themselves and working on their mental wellbeing. Additionally, her work also allows other women of color to talk about their mental health openly while showing them how to use creative projects as therapy. The Story of Mental Health also aids women in building small businesses to gain more financial independence.
Alice is the Head of Social Impact for Headspace, a well-known meditation app. It helps people slow down and be more mindful and present in their daily lives. They have many guided meditations like ones to help with sleep, relaxation or even coping with loneliness and anxiety.
Through Headspace, Alice helps youth, educators, and administrators within the US, UK, Canadian, and Australian education system. It’s no secret handling the everyday chaos of life during a pandemic has been incredibly draining for those with careers in education.
KlickEngage is a program used in schools to access and recognize the mental health needs of students. Samantha is the CEO and founder of this program. On the panel, she emphasized teachers can assist with making significant positive changes within the mental health arena.
Through KlickEngage, students can do daily check-ins and log how they are feeling. At the same time, teachers and administrators review the well-being of their students through self-assessment. Young people have both the opportunities and tools to openly discuss their emotions and mental health, including having the vocabulary needed to identify and handle extreme emotions. Often, it is easier to talk about your feelings when you have the right words to describe them.
KlickEngage also wrote this post about the importance of arts education.
What You Can Do At Home
For me, the biggest takeaway from the Girl Talk is how open communication greatly impacts mental health. If you notice your daughter is struggling, start by simply talking with her. Ask about her life, what’s new, what’s troubling, discuss everything on both of your minds honestly and warmly. Unsure of how to have the conversation? The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers these tips:
- Communicate in a straightforward manner
- Speak at a level that is appropriate to a child or adolescent’s age and development level (preschool children need fewer details than teenagers)
- Discuss the topic when your child feels safe and comfortable
- Watch for reactions during the discussion and slow down or back up if your child becomes confused or looks upset
- Listen openly and let your child tell you about his or her feelings and worries
Having a simple conversation is a big step towards caring for mental health. Kudos to GirlUp and the Girl Talk speakers and panelists for putting this fact front and center.
Written by Latee’ Wilburn
Top photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash