Mental health is a topic that affects the majority of any given population, especially teenagers. In this interview, we will be featuring Natalia B., who is a teen from Canada, and talking about her experience with mental health, the stigma, and so much more!
Please introduce and tell us a little about yourself.
“Hi! My name is Natalia and I’m a high school senior in Calgary, Canada. I’m a competitive dancer, an aspiring doctor, and I love exploring the world. From a mental health aspect, I’ve been a member of my school’s Peer Support team ever since grade 10. Currently, my title is “Head of Media and Marketing,” in which I run our Instagram page (@rcpeersupport) and oversee marketing strategies.”
Do you believe that you have a good support system?
“Being diagnosed with a rare medical condition at the age of 3, my childhood wasn’t easy. The one thing that pushed me through the tough times was my strong support system; I am forever grateful to my dearest family and close friends who picked me up when I was down. I recognize that I am extremely fortunate to have such loving human beings in my life. Now, I try to be a pillar of support for those around me, as I know how much difference one person can make when you are struggling. With this being said, please feel free to contact me if you need someone to talk to! DM @natalia.bartlomowicz I’m here for you :)”
How do you deal with your own mental health?
“I would say ever since the pandemic started I made my mental health a number 1 priority. Throughout my years of highschool, I’ve become much more self-aware about my boundaries; I am able to identify when I’m stressed, anxious, or in a bad mental space. When I notice one of my “warning signs” (such as headache, irritability, lack of sleep, etc.) I stop what I’m doing and give myself a mental health day. Self-care has become crucial in my daily routine: I talk to my friends, give myself a spa day, go on walks with my dog, and listen to my favourite music. Just like everyone else, I have both good days and bad days. I believe that in order to thrive in life, you must be in a proper mental space. Self-care is a key aspect of being a healthy, growing human being.”
Are there any specific psychological conditions that mean a lot to you?
“Personally, I haven’t experienced any mental health illnesses myself, but I’ve witnessed people around me struggle with anxiety and depression. From an observer’s point of view, I’ve seen how these illnesses can completely change a person and their perception of the world around them. Clearly, I can’t speak too much on this subject as I acknowledge that I don’t know how it feels to deal with anxiety and/or depression.”
Do you believe that the stigma has decreased a significant amount in your community?
“I’ve definitely seen a decrease in the amount of stigma among the grade 12s, however, the younger grades still struggle with it. I’ve noticed that being vulnerable and open with others is something that comes with age. It isn’t easy to talk about your mental health at a young age. When an individual matures, they realize that mental health is a good thing and that it is healthy to discuss it with others. In my school community, the Peer Support team tries our best to break the stigma. I think that overall, the amount of stigma in society has decreased significantly in the past few decades, however, we still have a long way to go.”
Do you have any favorite mental health advocates? If so, who are they?
“Yes!!!! I absolutely love Jameela Jamil. She’s a public figure who uses her platform for advocating good mental health. She has a podcast called “ I Weigh,” where she discusses her experience with different societal issues as well as interviewing guest speakers too. You should definitely check her out! Give @jameelajamilofficial a follow on insta.”
How do you think school affects mental health?
Unfortunately, school has multiple negative effects on students’ mental health. The amount of pressure, assignments, and shear stress that school comes with contributes to many individuals worsening mental wellbeing. Especially in highly competitive environments, it is easy to crack under pressure. I’ve found that my mental health always takes a dip when I’m in the most stressful months of school. I believe that schools should put a bigger emphasis on prioritizing students’ mental health. You can’t forfeit your wellbeing for good grades.
What do you think schools should do to combat mental illness within students?
“I think that school should make a “Mental Health” class. We have a Physical Education/ Gym class where we take care of our physical selves, so why shouldn’t we have a Mental Health class where we take care of our psychological selves? Mental health is just as important as physical health, and schools need to start treating it like that. A mental health class would consist of educating on different mental illnesses, giving coping mechanisms and ways to help out, and mandatory self-care homework.”
What self-care practices do you recommend?
- Taking a hot bath w/ candles and bath bombs
- Talking to your friends and family
- Doing activities that relax you and bring you joy
- Listening to music
- Spa day”
I hear you’re one of the heads at your school’s peer support team. Could you tell me a little about that?
“Peer Support truly acts as the heart of my school community. We make sure that everyone around us is in a good mental space, and we offer our support whenever needed. We plan and execute a variety of school events on mental-health oriented topics: exam week stress-busters, bullying-awareness, destigmatizing men’s mental health, consent and healthy relationships, and overall positivity. My favorite activity that we led is our annual Taste of Diversity day. Taste of Diversity, or TOD for short, centers on the appreciation of uniqueness within our community. Staff and students dress up in cultural wear and bring delicious, traditional meals to share with the school. In addition to the celebration, we hold an educational piece to the event, where we teach about the different cultures of the world. TOD has been described as one of the best student-led initiatives as it makes everybody feel appreciated. Advocating for inclusivity during Taste of Diversity has greatly increased the overall feel of community and wellbeing at my school. As one of the heads, specifically “Head of Media and Marketing,” I’m responsible for creating ideas, managing my team, and representing the school in a positive light.”
What’s the hardest thing you’ve dealt with recently?
“I’ve recently lost an aunt due to health complications. It’s been pretty hard on my family, but we’ve been holding up alright. Additionally, my best friend and I have stopped talking 😦 I miss her so much. Even though times are tough right now, especially with covid, I have to keep my head held up high. Things will get better.”
What does mental health mean to you?
“Mental health means a plethora of things, but to me, it is the lens in which an individual views the world around them. As human beings, everything is subjective to us. We always view things with some kind of bias. A bad/ poor mental health leads to viewing the world in a more negative light, whereas good mental health leads to a more positive view. Mental health is shaped by past experiences, current conditions, and genetic predispositions. All in all, mental health should be the #1 priority in an individual’s life, as it manifests factors of their current and future lives.”
It was great to learn more about Natalia B. and their personal experience with mental health. As always, your story does and always will matter.