10 Young People Changing their Communities for Mental Health
Wed, 09/29/2021 – 11:12
By Kelly Davis, Associate Vice President of Peer and Youth Advocacy at Mental Health America
Mental Health America (MHA) is proud to announce the members of the 2021-2022 Young Mental Health Leaders Council (YMHLC). YMHLC identifies young leaders from across the U.S. who have created programs and initiatives that fill gaps in traditional mental health services in their communities. Through YMHLC, members connect with other leaders, share their work with MHA’s audiences, and expand their ideas into new communities.
This year’s cohort is working to address mental health across many areas including faith, policy, research, schools, and peer support. YMHLC members will contribute to MHA’s annual Young People’s Mental Health Report and will share their ideas and initiatives with our audience throughout the 2021-2022 academic year.
Learn more about them below!
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Jaden Stewart (he/him) is an 18-year-old freshman at Kenyon College looking to make a positive change in the world by using his social media platforms to inspire others to strive for greatness each and every day!
Currently, he’s at the Division III level playing football and is in the process of working his way up the depth chart. THE PROCESS. Even with all of his accomplishments throughout high school, being a star athlete and valedictorian, he wants to make a bigger impact on people he may encounter day by day. By being a part of Mental Health America’s Young Mental Health Leaders Council, he hopes to bring much positive energy and encouragement to people of all ages.
Prameela Boorada (she/her) is an artist, researcher, advocate, and social-impact storyteller.
Growing up in India, Prameela was raised on a wonderful selection of fables, mythology, biographies, and experiences. Moving to the United States opened a portal to identity and existential crises. She started college at 16 and graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Psychology. Through college, she suffered from depression, social anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. In an attempt to find healing and community, Prameela got involved with on-campus mental health advocacy. That passion stayed with her well beyond college — in fact, it compelled her to quit her corporate job to learn more about digital well-being and social impact entrepreneurship. During this time, she did a fellowship with HeadStream Innovations where she researched how visibility and vulnerability on social media can impact well-being. She published a digital magazine featuring stories from 22 entrepreneurs/advocates/artists.
Alongside this project, Prameela got involved in grassroots advocacy through MannMukti. Given the stigma around mental health in South Asian cultures, her primary focus was on creating a space for youth to discuss mental health concerns safely. In June 2021, she launched MannMukti’s nationwide Youth Fellowship Program. It’s a six-month program featuring lectures from educators/activists, 1:1 mentorship from mental health professionals, and support to build a social impact project. The inaugural cohort has 18 students with a plan to expand the cohort size in 2022.
Mahmoud Khedr (he/him) is, above all, human-first. He’s a proud Egyptian immigrant passionate about building equitable and scalable solutions empowering underserved communities addressing mental health and education. For the last 10 years, he’s been working at the intersection of technology, government, health, and social impact. He is a social entrepreneur who is currently the co-founder and CEO of FloraMind, an organization with the vision of empowering young people to flourish through the most diverse mental health movement. Mahmoud previously worked at Facebook, Google, Echoing Green, and the NYC Mayor’s Office of Tech & Innovation. Everything Mahmoud has been involved in throughout his career has been to end unnecessary suffering and empower people to flourish.
As a global advocate and speaker on mental health, youth empowerment, and social entrepreneurship, Mahmoud has received fellowships, awards, and recognition from former President Bill Clinton, General Colin Powell, Forbes, and Stanford d. School. In 2019, he delivered his TED talk, “How Toxic Positivity Leads to More Suffering.”
Sophie Szew (she/her) is a Jewtina and mental health warrior from Los Angeles who is passionate about advocacy and social justice on all fronts. Since recovering from an eating disorder in 2019, her writing (both poetry and personal narratives) has been published in a number of outlets, including FEAST, the Dillydoun Review, Channel Kindness, Jewtina y Co, and Detester Magazine, among others. She was also the inaugural poet to the Mayor of Beverly Hills. This year, she founded the Youth Latinx Leadership Conference, a student-run organization that connects Latinx student leaders to the resources to succeed as future changemakers. She was able to help connect over 500 foster families to undocumented and unaccompanied child immigrants. She also spends her time bringing awareness to issues that affect BIPOC communities through her work with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and her Congressional internship!
Anthony Sartori (he/him) strives to bring people together. After earning a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Maryland, Anthony led mindfulness programs at an outpatient clinic for youth with mental health challenges. In March of 2020, he launched Evolving Minds with a purpose: to connect. He’s raised over $20,000, developed impactful mental health programming for students, educators, and businesses, and has graduated over 400 alumni. He currently leads the development of mindfulness content for health care workers with Vitalize and sits on the Equity and Interdependence Committee at iBme.
Joseph Sexton (he/him) is a 20-year-old junior at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, where he is studying Psychology; Statistics; and Medicine, Health, & Society with a concentration in critical psychiatry. A Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship recipient, Joseph has centered his advocacy around a need for systemic reform, specifically through policy efforts and a deep commitment to research. He leads a Mental Health Policy Working Group that brings students together to learn about and advocate for policies relevant to mental health outcomes, and he also serves as a Rising Leader for the Tourette Association of America, speaking for the rights and awareness of those with tic disorders.
For his research on suicidal thoughts and behaviors, Joseph was awarded a Goldwater Scholarship in April 2021, recognizing high talent and potential for impact in science. He believes the commercialization of academia and medicine endangers American mental health and is fervently committed to open science and psychiatric reform, working to clean and publicize CDC data on suicides from 1960 to 2020 through his forthcoming U.S. Suicide Compiler project. In conjunction with Mental Health America of the MidSouth, Joseph is also organizing the inaugural Vanderbilt Critical Psychiatry Conference to bring together academics, clinicians, and students in order to understand what is and is not working in the current state of biological psychiatry. He plans on pursuing a career in academia, researching and teaching clinical psychology.
Catherine Delgado (she/her) is an 18-year-old from San Diego, California, and uses she/her/hers pronouns. She is a first-year Public Health student at George Washington University. Growing up, Catherine watched those closest to her struggle with their overwhelming stress, anxiety, and desire to self-harm. She believed that an unwillingness to hold safe conversations about mental health prevented young students from developing the life skills needed to support themselves emotionally throughout their lifetime. It became Catherine’s mission to tackle the educational system and create strong mental health support for all students.
This mission led Catherine to found the Student Wellness Education And Resources (SWEAR) Committee at the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). A student-led mental health advocacy group, the SWEAR Committee is leading the effort for formal mental health and wellness curriculum development. SWEAR’s biggest achievement is the passing of a resolution with the SDUSD Board of Education to provide comprehensive, research-based mental health education on an annual basis to all secondary school students at SDUSD. Catherine is now part of the committee that is designing the curriculum for implementation within middle and high schools.
Melanie Zhou (she/her) is a sophomore at Stanford University studying Computer Science and Creative Writing. Seeing a counselor 10 years after a traumatic childhood experience helped her recognize the need to destigmatize the mental health conversation. In the next few years, she hopes to see her nonprofit, Oasis, expand to schools across Colorado while partnering with mental health programs that are proven to help students. She serves as the Youth Commissioner on the Governor’s Commission on Community Service of Colorado. In her free time, Melanie loves to hike, swim, and skydive.
Breanna Kennedy (they/them) has suffered with mental illness since 6th grade alone due to growing up in an environment where mental illness was often ignored, stigmatized, and even considered taboo. They want to make sure other individuals and youth do not feel alone or silenced during their mental health journey.
Breanna is currently a sophomore Pre-Veterinary Sciences Biology major at the University of South Carolina-Aiken (UofSC). Breanna currently works on campus at their Wellness Center as aStudent Coordinator for IMPACT Community Service. They also serve asUofSC Aiken Circle K International President in order to not only serve their school, but also their community.
In addition, they serve as the co-Director for Enrichment for Yellow Tulip Project, a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate the detrimental stigma that often surrounds mental illness and to open safe spaces for individuals to talk about their experiences with mental illness. They are currently working on events at UofSC Aiken and the local Boys’ and Girls’ Club in order to teach students and children the importance of mental health and also fun activities that allow them to practice self-care, self-love, and self-growth. Breanna is very excited to smash the stigma of mental illness and change lives.
Marissa Byers (she/her) is a future eco-therapist who is passionate about connecting people with the natural environment to improve mental health and well-being. She graduated from Butler University with an Environmental Studies degree in 2018 and is currently pursuing her Masters of Social Work at IUPUI in Indianapolis. Her current collaborative work aims to help college students take advantage of the natural resources around them and get outside to connect with themselves, others, and their environments!