“Wellness” is a term you hear often in Silicon Valley. But what does it really mean? To some families, wellness revolves around externally gratifying accomplishments – a child is doing well if he or she is earning straight As, participating in resume-bolstering extracurricular activities, and getting into the most prestigious universities. From parents to children, a trickle-down effect has taken place as many youth struggle to conceptualize the true meaning of wellness. What happened to doing things just so you feel well inside? Reading a book, going to the park with friends, sitting in the sun – these activities and their importance in overall wellness have slowly been engulfed by our society’s desire to constantly push for things we don’t have.
Without a baseline foundation in mental health, our youth have struggled to handle the various stressors that come with being a teenager today. In Palo Alto, these stressors include academics, relationships, mental illnesses, and more. While the stressors may be different across communities in the Bay Area, the need to critically examine what “wellness” really means, particularly in the lives of youth, is the same. Towards that end, I will be introducing teenagers in our community that work tirelessly to alleviate stressors and emphasize mental health’s importance in overall wellness for young people. I hope that this brings light to the positivity and will that our community’s youth possess.
Part 1: Academic Stress with Meghna Singh
Meghna Singh is a sophomore at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California. She moved to the Bay Area just before middle school, and became increasingly surprised at how different the academic environment was in her new home. Coming into high school, “All anyone would talk about is Ivy league schools and Stanford. It blew my mind that students thought those were the only schools they could go to. It’s as if no other options existed, and students were forced by themselves, peers, and parents to do anything that was necessary to get into those schools. It isn’t healthy.” Furthermore, in 2014, a teenager close to Meghna died by suicide, and this was a major turning point for her. Meghna decided that she would help to reduce academic stress in her community and redefine the meaning of success.
Among others, Meghna is part of ROCK, Paths from Palo Alto, and an advanced research program at Gunn. ROCK (Reach Out, Care, Know) is an organization that focuses on the mental health of the entire Gunn High community. As a member of the leadership board, Meghna plays a key role in organizing activities throughout the year. Last year, ROCK hand-wrote a personalized appreciation-gram to every single student and staff member at Gunn. “The focus is to include everyone so that all students and staff members know that there are others that truly care for them” says Meghna. ROCK has also used their funds to provide food and gifts to the security guards that provide 24/7 surveillance at the CalTrain crossings where most of our teen suicides have occurred. In the near future, ROCK plans to bring therapy puppies to campus during finals week to help alleviate stress.
Paths from Palo Alto allows alumni from the city of Palo Alto to share their stories in the real world. “Alumni are able to reflect and comment on their high school experience, college experience, work life, and most importantly, their definition of success–which has been a prominent issue in our community. “The ultimate goal is for us to help students realize that there are many ways to become successful, and every person’s path to success will be different” says Meghna. Meghna continues to help Paths from Palo Alto by revamping their website and reaching out to a larger network of alumni.
Lastly, Meghna is currently enrolled in an advanced research class at Gunn tailored to provide students with the tools to conduct thorough, high-level research. Mentored by psychiatrists at the Stanford School of Medicine, Meghna is conducting a study on the topic of college with the hopes of highlighting that students can go to any college and still lead a successful and fulfilling life. “I hope to prove that you don’t have to go to an Ivy league school or any of the top universities to be successful” says Meghna. Her survey asks about high school GPA, colleges attended, job status, the meaning of success, quality of life, and much more. Meghna believes “there is no one correct route on the path after high school.”
When I asked Meghna if she had a message she wanted to convey to teenagers like herself, she stated, “You don’t have to take on extracurricular activities that you hate and excess advanced placement classes to get into that ‘dream college.’ Focus on the strengths in your life and things you are actually passionate about, and success will follow.” It is teens like Meghna that are slowly but surely sculpting mental health into the true meaning of wellness, creating a healthier future for the SF Bay Area’s youth.
In part 2, I will be introducing Dr. Martin Seligman’s (Professor of Psychology & Director of the Positive Psychology Center at University of Pennsylvania) overarching definition of well-being, which involves the acronym PERMA for Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. I will also chronicle my interview with a Los Altos High School student that is addressing PERMA in her own unique way. Please share to help encourage action among teenagers interested in mental health.
- HEARD Alliance: http://www.heardalliance.org/
- Greater Good Society: http://ggia.berkeley.edu/
- Project Happiness: https://projecthappiness.com/
- ROCK: https://rockatgunn.wordpress.com/
- Paths From Palo Alto: http://www.pathsfrompaloalto.com/
Flourish by Dr. Martin Seligman