This was originally posted on the Best Starts for Kids blog. May is Mental Health Awareness Month! We’re grateful to feature stories from young people this week who have been living through a disruptive pandemic and highlight upcoming events and resources to support your mental and emotional health beyond May.
Locally and nationally, young people are experiencing wide ranging impacts of the pandemic on their lives, including impacts on their mental health and well-being. At Best Starts for Kids, we’re working with community partners and young people to support emotional health and well-being, reduce stigma around mental health, and reinforce compassion, connection and care in communities. Recognizing that racism is a public health crisis, we focus on reaching young people who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color and young people who are facing other forms of oppression.
We know that storytelling can be powerful in the process of healing. Today, we are grateful to share our conversation with Heena Vahora, an 18-year-old high school senior from White Center, member of the Youth Healing Project, and soon-to-be University of Washington student. Heena shares her experience as a young person of color, facing mental health challenges through a pandemic, building creative coping mechanisms, and calling for community resourcing for young people like her.
I love speaking about mental health within the immigrant and refugee communities. My generation is trying to break through generational trauma and set a new standard with new traditions and awareness.
Growing up in White Center, with immigrant parents, I’ve witnessed my family overwork. It took a while for me to learn that taking a break isn’t being lazy. BIPOC youth need support and they need more than surface-level solutions to mental exhaustion and burnout.
Some people say if you work harder then you’ll get this great opportunity but so many of us are working their hardest and still can’t access the same opportunities. It’s not because we don’t work hard enough. It’s because of the social injustices in our system.
Finishing high school in a pandemic
The pandemic took away two years of my high school experience. It’s just crazy, because right now, I’m 18 but mentally I still feel 15.
I would say that something that has helped me is finding out my interests and understanding better why I get out of bed every day. It helps to think through what brings me joy, courage, and determination.
Creating a system of community support
I feel like something that has really helped me throughout the past few years is building a relationship with a mentor. My mentor has been my favorite person. I would go to her every time I experience a hardship, even if it was just a fight with a friend. Having that meant I wouldn’t feel alone or isolated. Throughout the pandemic, so many of us feel alone and isolated, and like we had no one to go to. Even with things opening up, we are still feeling that isolation because people are getting COVID again. Currently I’m quarantining in my room and not going to school because my parents recently tested positive for COVID.
Building a reservoir of joy
Something that brings me joy is appreciating my accomplishments. I got my driver’s license a few years ago and I’m just really proud that I know how to drive on the freeway now.
I’m also proud of the connections and relationships I built. In my freshman year of high school, I was that kid who never raised her hand. I didn’t like talking to people and I didn’t like public speaking. But now I’m emceeing different events, I speak to different communities, and today I am that person who speaks 24/7.
Upcoming Event to access free mental health supports:
- June 1, 4:30 – 6:00 PM
Join SKEWL and Public Health–Seattle & King County’s Community Well-Being Program for a conversation on youth mental health led by and for young people in our region. Learn more and register here.
Crisis resources for young people and their families: