Graphic courtesy of YAPA Mental Health Advocacy Group
The YAPA Mental Health advocacy group has conducted a variety of projects since August aiming to research and improve mental health conditions and access to wellness resources for Bay Area high school students.
Among these endeavors was a community-wide wellness survey in early September designed by the group and promoted through social media. The survey focused on topics like academic, social and familial stressors, substance and alcohol use, and access to wellness resources at school. It ultimately garnered over 300 responses, allowing Mental Health group members to analyze areas that could use improvement and discuss potential policy solutions.
“The results were quite shocking, especially how brutally honest people were in their answers,” said Roy Liao, a junior at Monta Vista High School and member of the Mental Health group. “It was probably the most memorable thing we did.”
Liao also said that data collected from the survey revealed how students felt isolated and unsupported by school administration, which became a driving factor in deciding the policies that group members wanted to pursue.
For policy creation and promotion, group members split into small work teams of 2-3 people, each drafting a wellness policy relevant to their local community and school district. Policies included implementation of more wellness education through classes or modules, bolstered administrator support for students by regular student-staff check-ins, and increased accessibility for wellness resources on campus.
Crafting a policy solution to prevalent wellness issues was an eye-opening experience for many students in the group, including Liao, who said that his biggest takeaways from the program were learning the process of how to advocate for change and realizing that anyone is entitled to speak up for issues they perceive.
“In a way, the program taught me how to impact our community on a larger scale compared to what I’ve done previously,” Liao said. “Working with this group gave me the opportunity to overcome some of the limitations I set on myself — for instance, feeling unfit to advocate for mental health because I was not personally suffering significantly from wellness issues.”
The Mental Health group is mentored by Hung Wei, former Board Member of Fremont Union High School District, and Clifton Der Bing, PsyD, a licensed campus psychologist at Foothill College. Wei said that seeing the group’s students gradually open up to each other as they worked to find policy solutions was a heartwarming part of the program.
“Even sharing stories during icebreakers in the beginning of our meetings always brings important moments,” Wei said. “They’re spontaneous, and they bring out heart-to-heart conversations.”
While fitting all activities within the time frame of 10 weekly meetings has proven challenging, students were still able to complete meaningful and eye-opening projects and research, according to Wei.
As the students of the Mental Health group continue with advocacy into the future, perhaps on different topics, Wei hopes they can take away the central aspect of their work in improving wellness resources over the past ten weeks and apply it to their own lives. “I want students to know that they are not alone in sometimes feeling ‘not good enough’, and that they are always good enough for the people who love them."
Written By Esther Luan