A teen’s perspective on mental health

Palo Alto student talks candidly about the stigma of mental health and how she became an advocate for mental wellness in youth

Teen mental health illustration

Nura Mostaghimi, age 16, a junior at Palo Alto High School (“Paly”) spoke with Stanford Children’s Health about promising new mental health support programs in the community and her perspective on a controversial television series.

Nura took part in Stanford’s second annual Adolescent Mental Wellness Conference, April 27-28. She is a Youth Advisory Group member for the early intervention headspace program being developed as a partnership between Stanford and Santa Clara County.

1. What inspired your interest in youth mental health? How did you end up as an advocate for mental wellness?

My interest in mental health began in 8th grade, when a friend of mine shared news that another close friend was considering taking her life. I knew what suicide was at that time, but I wasn’t familiar with available resources or how best to deal with that situation. There was a teacher on campus who a few of us were close with, so we directed our friend to speak with that teacher and a school counselor. That experience of understanding my friend’s thought process and going through that experience with her opened my eyes to this realm of life. It made me consider questions like:

What are the best approaches to having a conversation with the least amount of stigma possible? What is the best approach to make sure people are well educated and have a way to open a conversation about the subject? – Nura Mostaghimi, Palo Alto High School

At Paly, I’m involved in a chapter of a national suicide prevention program called Sources of Strength. I became a peer leader during my freshman year. That sparked me to get more involved, and I’m now on the program’s steering committee.

In my sophomore year, I learned about the Stanford Mental Health Innovation Challenge. I thought, “this looks really cool”, so I applied. My group was one of the sectional winners. As a result, we’re developing a video game or app designed for first to third graders to teach them about mental health and how to lessen stigma in that essential time of learning and development.

I also participated in the video, “Youth Perspectives on Mental Health & the Media” along with other Paly and Gunn High School students. When the headspace program came to Stanford, it really opened the door to my advocacy.

2. What were the most impactful parts of the conference for you?

I’m a bit biased, but I enjoyed the Youth Innovation Panel that I was part of. The questions the audience asked were intriguing. There was one question from a lady who runs a youth mental health organization in the county. It wasn’t the profoundness of her question, but the thoughtfulness. She asked, “is there anything we can do to support you?” The fact that mental health professionals in the community are ready to support us meant a lot. With respect to the work my Innovation Challenge group is pursuing with the video game, there’s only so much we can do as students to create a game of so much complexity that will help children learn about mental health.

3. During the conference, there was a panel discussion about the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” With season two recently released, what are your thoughts about the show, and what have you perceived as its effect on your friends and peers?

I actually haven’t seen the show. But I’m pretty familiar with it by reading about it. I was hesitant to watch it. TV or shows don’t bother me, but I didn’t want to show any support for it by watching it. I don’t think it did a good job of educating about the topic (of suicide/mental health). I wouldn’t say it’s the best show for young teenagers, especially if it’s the person’s first exposure to suicide. It also deals with depression and anxiety, and I don’t think these topics are shared in the most accurate way. As reported in a lot of articles, it kind of glorifies suicide in ways that aren’t very positive for viewers. There are news stories about young people who’ve taken their lives after watching it. I don’t know that such topics should be put out there as entertainment.

For information and resources to address specific topics raised in the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” please consult the 13 Reasons Why Toolkit, developed by experts in mental health, suicide prevention and education, as well as healthcare professionals, including those at the Stanford Psychiatry Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

4. If a friend or peer of yours was thinking about watching “13 Reasons Why,” what advice would you give?

I would say: “Watch at your own risk.” Not in a bad or rude way, but just know that the show can have an emotional and mental effect on you. It’s serious. It’s taking place in a high school setting, where you experience things like we experience. It has parts where you see things you don’t want to see. I don’t think Netflix did the best job of warning viewers, like for the scene where the main character takes her own life. Several friends who watched that episode told me, ‘That was one of the worst things I’ve seen in my life.’ These are high school students who watch tons of shows and movies.

5. Does the conference theme, “Overcoming cultural barriers to access” resonate with the work you’re doing in the community on youth mental wellness?

Headspace has the capacity to make a powerful impact in the community. It will take cultural barriers into account, especially in its location. We want to make the centers easily accessible to the largest group of people, no matter what their background. As we work on mental health projects, it’s important to think of the target audience. If changes need to be made so all cultural backgrounds have access to mental health support, then we should make those changes.

6. Do you have any advice for young people on mental health challenges and wellness?

The best thing we can do in the realm of mental health, and in general, is if there’s something you’re passionate about, don’t wait on someone to tell you to get involved. For me it is youth mental health, but it can be anything. Know that innately you have a desire to get involved and pursue your passion right away.

To find youth mental health resources in the South Bay and Peninsula communities, please download our Youth Mental Health and Wellness guide.

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