Student Voices: ‘Now is the time to talk.’
by Seika Brown, high school senior and founder and co-CEO of Archnova
On our blog, OSPI wants to provide a platform for stories written by Washington’s students. These stories are an authentic look into the life of a K–12 public school student. They are not influenced by OSPI, and edited only for readability. For questions, please contact the OSPI Communications team at email@example.com.
There was a lesson my brother once unknowingly taught me about life. Before he left for college, I used to sit in his bedroom and talk to him and watch him play video games. One night, I was telling him how I didn’t want to do my homework. I used the classic saying that every student says at least once in their lives: “when will I ever use this?” He told me that if I wanted to make something of my life, then I had to work for it, and if I can’t do a single math assignment, I wouldn’t get anywhere. For some that may seem harsh, but for me, it was clarifying. He was right. Learning how to discipline yourself, how to sit down, do work, and appreciate it, is the key to having a good outlook in life and having a “Healthy Mindset.”
My name is Seika Brown. I’m 17, a senior in high school, and I’m getting ready to go to college. I haven’t been the greatest student, but I would like to say I have improved. I failed my sophomore Algebra 2 class in the second semester and had to do summer school. Now, this isn’t something someone probably wants to admit to what is likely a bunch of educators, but I failed myself by failing that class, and the school system failed me by not teaching me what it means to have a healthy mindset. But I have accomplished more in life than failing an Algebra 2 class.
In August 2018, a few months after my school and I couldn’t meet a compromise for a mental health club, I sat down with my friend and said “Well, let’s take it outside of school.” That was the moment the youth organization I founded and co-lead, Archnova, was born. Archnova combines two Latin and Greek roots meaning “New Beginnings.”
Since August of last year, my team and I have blossomed. We have:
- testified for a bill,
- conducted studies and shared them with legislators and politicians,
- created a three tier program for our high school,
- spoke at two different panels,
- worked alongside Chapman University and the University of Washington Forefront to spread awareness in mental health,
- we were able to make a speech at Suicide Prevention Education Day, and
- we’ve partnered with local, statewide, national, and global organizations in effort to make mental health a conversation that is normal to have, a New Beginning where everyone can be part of the narrative.
This is a conversation we can’t be scared of having, but I don’t blame anyone who is hesitant to speak about it.
This is a conversation we can’t be scared of having, but I don’t blame anyone who is hesitant to speak about it. It seems scary, but I promise you it isn’t. For too long, humanity as we know it has tiptoed our way around the topic of mental health, which did a lot more harm than good. My parents’ generation, and every generation before them, barely speak about mental health, and that’s why it’s so scary. Mental illness and mental health isn’t new, but talking about it is. Mental illness has been on the rise, there have been more suicide attempts, higher depression rates, and hazardous stress and anxiety levels. Now is the time to talk.
In a school setting, mental health, illness, and suicide prevention are only talked about at the beginning of the year, and never spoken about again. That may vary between schools and districts, but there is not enough conversation around it. I’ve interviewed, surveyed, and talked to students and administrators at my school and district, and there is one common thread: nothing is getting better. I’m sure that for the people who work everyday to improve mental health, that statement hurts. There are so many resources, toolkits, workshops, and ways to get help, but the sad thing is, nothing is communicated. That is the key thing that’s missing. Without communicating to everyone involved that these things exist, we will see statistics continue to skyrocket.
“How do we communicate it then?” you may ask. It’s a feedback loop. You may be here reading what I have written, but I shouldn’t be the only one being heard. We should be encouraging schools to have schoolwide/classroom-wide conversations on what mental health looks like for their community. Teach students, not just teachers on suicide prevention, branch out from just talking about anxiety and stress and speak about what students can do to cope. Don’t start at high schools, start with the elementary students. Drilling it into kids’ minds that it is okay to be sad, that is okay to be upset, it is okay to not understand, this is essential in the development of the mind. It’s basic psychology: if you tell a child every day that they should do better, that they might grow up with a bad mindset. Truly promoting healthy mindsets may take years to do, but a small step in the right direction is a step nevertheless.
Truly promoting healthy mindsets may take years to do, but a small step in the right direction is a step nevertheless.
School is hard, and working around what works in education is harder. Efforts are being made, just not heard. Junior year is said to be the hardest academic year throughout one’s educational career, so much so that kids dread the idea of going into junior year. While the world becomes more knowledgeable, the education level increases. As we evolve and change as a species we must understand that we need to evolve and change the systems with it. Students are stressed and overwhelmed on a daily basis, they don’t get enough sleep, they don’t eat well, and they carry out-of-school related things on their backs.
Washington has been making strides to improve the mental health in schools, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. However, not enough effort has been made to communicate it clearly, not enough is done to be understanding. As students, we are being taught what stress and anxiety is, but we don’t need to be taught that- we feel it. School gives us definitions and statistics to show us how bad mental health is, as if we didn’t know that. Again: we feel it. We need solutions, so present those. As a state, we have been a model for what mental health should look like in schools, but we still have a ways to go. It’s important to remember that things need to be updated and changed to fit each new generational wave of students. To do that, kids need to be more involved in the process — not just yearly surveys. Together as a community we can work hand in hand to make a new beginning for all schools.
To leave you with something to take, let me share an image. I often think of the world as a tree. In the world today we look at the broken branches like how we look at social problems, we focus on temporary fixes rather than looking at the root. Mental health is a root of this tree. I believe the moment we can recognize that mental health is more than mental illness, we will truly take a step in the right direction. Every Person Can Help.
OSPI would like to thank Seika Brown for sharing her insight. She is the co-founder of Archnova, a youth organization focused on advocating for mental health supports in Washington schools.
Find out more about the work that OSPI is engaged in around student mental health and wellbeing.