Sep 22, 2021

Angela Wallace is a senior at Bowdoin College and an effective, persuasive advocate for mental health education in the Commonwealth. Our Interview with Angela gives us insight about the role the next generation of leaders play in the future of mental health advocacy.

Angela Wallace is a senior at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME. As a person who struggled with anxiety in high school and college, she recognizes an unspoken pressure for people to solve their problems on their own without asking for help. Angela seeks to dismantle this mindset by pushing for more mental health discourse. With MAMH, she advocates for satewide legislation to require K-12 schools across the Commonwealth to offer mental health education to all students.

The past year has taught us so much about youth mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally affected young adults, with 56% reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression compared to 41% for other adults. Social isolation, the feeling of "missing out" on milestones, and the looming uncertainty as COVID-19 cases are on the rise again.

Mental health awareness has never been more important. Angela Wallace has been advocating for mental health education in schools to help students understand, value, and protect their mental health.

What inspired you to use your voice for mental health advocacy?

As a Black woman who grew up in a predominantly white school system, I often felt pressured to meet the standards of the “strong Black woman” stereotype. This meant I was expected to attend to the needs of others before my own. With the lack of mental health resources in my school, I perceived asking for help as a weakness.

Mental health advocacy allows me to pave the way for others to see strength in prioritizing their mental health needs. By speaking on behalf of legislation that will incorporate mental health resources in school systems, I hope to fight for a world that offers a safe space for individuals to seek treatment, discuss their mental health struggles, advocate for mental health resources, and be an ally for those who are not able to use their voice.

Over the past year, we’ve become aware of the challenges the pandemic brought to young adults. What have trying times like these taught you about the power of resilience?

Throughout the pandemic, we've seen more mental health struggles resulting from the lack of person-to-person interaction as well as the fear of what the COVID-19 world would bring. By remaining home for long periods of time with minimal access to the outside world, seeking treatment for mental health conditions became difficult. When it came to my advocacy work, I leaned on resilience during these trying times.

I am continuing the fight for mental health education awareness through testifying before the MA legislature via Zoom, presenting during Mental Health America webinars, and spreading the word through social media. I maintain contact with friends and family over Facetime, checking in on their mental health status and life updates. While the pandemic has impacted us in many ways, it is important to look at the light at the end of the tunnel.

What do local leaders need to know about youth mental health and the role advocates like yourself play in future legislation?

Local leaders need to know that mental health conditions are extremely common among teens and young adults. According to a Harvard Study, from 2000 to 2017, the suicide rate rose by 47% among teens ages 15 to 19 and 36% among those 20 to 24 in the U.S.

Local leaders need to understand that learning about youth mental health is pivotal in creating future leaders who can care for themselves, friends, co-workers, peers, loved ones, and more. Taking the time to learn about youth mental health can decrease these suicide rates and create a future where well being is regarded as a top priority.

Advocates like myself are not afraid to stand up for what we believe in. Advocates learn to value the stories of others and work to build a community that commits to reshaping the present and future positively. Advocacy work helps deconstruct the stigma surrounding mental health topics, and it is our fight as a collective that enables many voices to be heard to create long-lasting change in the world.

How can mental health education in schools help with destigmatizing mental health?

The key to destigmatizing mental health is normalizing the conversation. While sex education has been at the forefront of my health education for many years, there is also a dire need to include time for a curriculum regarding the underlying factors that contribute to one’s mental health, as well as how to effectively seek treatment. In normalizing mental health conversations, schools enable students to discuss their feelings and mental states without fearing judgment.

Additionally, schools need to support mental health legislation that will place mental health resources in K-12 schools. Legislation can enact lasting, positive change that can alter many lives for the better. Ultimately, schools must do their research on mental health topics so that the future leaders of America are educated on the issue, realize that they are not alone, and recognize that it is acceptable to ask for help.

picture of Allison Wallace
“Youth mental health is pivotal in creating future leaders who can care for themselves, friends, co-workers, peers, loved ones, and more.”
Angela Wallace

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