Integrating Mental Health into Climate Change and CivicSpark

December Great Story by Sarah Huang, 2017-18 Greater Los Angeles Climate Fellow

I woke up early on a Saturday morning to drive over to a Mental Health First Aid Training Course. When I arrived on the college campus, there was a small sign directing me where to go. As I entered, I saw colorful name tags, posters all along the walls and a welcoming area where drinks and snacks were offered. Although a part of me was initially bracing myself for a long and dull course, I was suddenly feeling rather alleviated by the warm atmosphere of the classroom.

As the instructors began to introduce themselves and provide their own personal background on how they became involved in the Mental Health First Aid Trainings, I felt my expectations and hopes for the next 8 hours grow. Following their introduction, everyone received a small guidebook and participated in a small group activity to introduce ourselves to the larger group. Then over the course of the next few hours, I learned a great deal on the stigma against getting help for mental health issues, the myths surrounding mental illness, self-harm and suicide, and how anyone such as myself can help others by knowing the signs and using a mental health action plan that allows others to feel safe and cared for enough to disclose what they are struggling with.

For me, I have had my own experiences regarding mental health with my own struggles with anxiety and internalized stigma against mental illness, with many of my friends who have been anxious, depressed and have attempted suicide, and through other trainings I participated in during my undergraduate education. I think one of the most inspiring things about the class was learning about the reasons other people were choosing to spend part of their weekend to learn more about mental health and how to help those they love and care about.

What I’m really hoping to take away from this experience is to integrate the lessons I learned into my CivicSpark leadership role as a Mental Health Advocate for the Greater Los Angeles Region. I think anytime people have to adapt to change, whether that’s because of joining a new program and starting one’s first full-time job or because of natural disasters destroying homes and displacing whole communities, mental health is a major concern that is often not discussed. So I hope I am able reduce the stigma around talking about mental health within the CivicSpark program and show the connections between climate change and mental health as it relates to both the growing extreme weather events that can drastically alter people’s lives and the overall anxiety around the society’s ability to combat and reduce the effects of climate change.