Mental health isn’t just about trying to have positive feelings; It’s about knowing how to deal with difficult things.
I was 8 years old when my older brother attempted suicide. It was like crossing a barrier where childhood ignorance had been shaken off and replaced with deeper aspects of life: death, money, insecurity, drugs and the possibility of loss.
There was nothing more terrifying than not understanding what was going on. Not having the vocabulary or words to express what I was thinking or feeling about the situation was stifling. It was as if I was screaming, but no words came out of my mouth, and no one heard me because I didn’t know how to scream.
This experience was the beginning of what inspired me to learn more about mental health. In the years since, I’ve come to realize that mental health care, like suicide prevention efforts, shouldn’t start after the crisis has happened. We don’t prepare for disaster after it happens. And we shouldn’t just talk about suicide or depression and illness without teaching the basics of mental health.
Good mental health means allowing oneself to experience the highs and lows in life with the realization that there is more to come.
Even in my family, I’ve seen how important it is to build a common language around mental health and keep conversations going. These conversations were difficult due to my parents’ cultural differences. My mother was born and raised in Japan, and my father was born in England to a military family. Neither of them openly discussed mental health in their families. In addition, members of my family have struggled with substance abuse, which has a long-term effect on our interactions.
Being able to recognize differences in conversation and learn to communicate better allowed me to bless my family as we moved forward.
Seven years after my brother’s suicide attempt, I created the first nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention, mental health awareness, and policy change.
The organization consisted of six other members, each of whom was a good friend from Issaquah High School. We named our team ‘ArchNova’ which is a mixture of Latin and Greek roots meaning ‘new beginnings’. Our goal was to make a fresh start to how people talk about mental health.
Between 2017 and 2020, my team and I worked with legislators at Olympia on two bills. The one bitter Focuses on suicide prevention for students. Through HB 1221, Washington has established school safety centers that help assess the physical, emotional, and mental stresses of students, teachers, and staff.
After three years of participating in the management of “ArchNova”, I came across the concept of B4Stage4 (Before Stage 4) from Mental Health America. It is a mental health awareness campaign before suicide occurs. While suicide may not always be 100% preventable, there are ways to teach people how to deal with their emotions.
Today, I see mental health as a way in which we interact with our lives. It is about mentality and well-being. We are human, and the conditions that life brings will not always be perfect. We are not supposed to be perfect. The struggle is inevitable.
I am now running an independent global research initiative that aims to explore how mental health is defined across different cultures and backgrounds. During my research, I spoke to people from over 10 countries. From Malaysia, Nigeria, Northern Cyprus, and across the United States, I have found that people are not simply looking for happiness; Rather, they are looking for how to love and support the people around them, and how to find love and support themselves.
Learning how to treat mental health as an essential part of well-being can help us support the people we love. By learning to take care of our mental health, we can endure life’s trials and support loved ones who may be suffering.
Our illnesses and mental health problems are not something to be ashamed of when we as a society can finally learn how to normalize these struggles and prioritize these struggles as part of everyday life.
Sika Brown is a 20-year-old researcher and mental health advocate from Issaquah. She attended Cornell University and founded a global research initiative that aims to explore how mental health is defined across cultures and backgrounds.