Solving the youth mental health crisis through empathy, self-care, and culturally-relevant education

Co-authored by Khandker AhamedDanny Tsoi, and Mahmoud Khedr

One year ago today, three friends started a conversation about mental health. We sat around in our college library sharing stories of personal struggles with mental health throughout our youth. We were devastated by the lack of resources, support, and guidance we had received to be able to cope with issues while growing up. This conversation allowed us to connect to each other in a way that brought us closer than ever. As young entrepreneurs, naturally, we tossed around ideas to what we can do to help others who experienced similar mental health challenges. After a spirited brainstorming session, we left with the intent to do something to improve the state of mental health. We began researching and discovered the devastating statistics regarding mental health in the United States. This set us on the path to creating FloraMind.

Mental health has been a silent health epidemic in our society for decades. According to Mental Health America, mental health issues for the youth have increased over the last four years, with suicide being the second leading cause of death for youth age 15–24.

Knowing how many Americans suffer from mental health disorders drove us to develop innovative ideas to make an impact on mental health services. There were many ideas that circulated around building a chat service for counseling, booking for mental health professionals, and data analytics platform for behavioral health. After conducting research and interviews, we found that many of these ideas are already on the market with various established companies. However, the common purpose between a lot of those initiatives was addressing adult mental health conditions, not the mental health of youth.

Understanding the ecosystem better helped us decide that we were strongly interested in leveraging technology to obtain data-driven insights to help improve mental health at low-cost and high-availability. We went to the drawing board to gauge feasibility and strategize how we can validate our assumptions. During our deep-dive, we discovered the lack of support for youth mental health needs in schools.

That’s why FloraMind focuses on prevention and early intervention, instead of diagnoses and treatment. We can make an impact improving youth mental health by providing students with the skills to cope with emotional issues, recognize signs and symptoms, and how to seek support from peers, family, and mental health professionals. Four months after the initial conversation, we led our first workshop at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn, NY. We engaged with the students on the topic of reducing social stigma around mental health. We received positive feedback from the students and teachers.

“Learning about the right language to use around mental health was the most eye-opening part for me. I’m going to be more cautious with the way I talk to my friends about mental health going forward.” Student, Medgar Evers College Preparatory School.

Being trained by Stanford’s University Innovation Fellows, we learned the importance of starting with empathy, using design thinking and human-centered design as an important method for our program development. Design thinking is focused on solving problems through a process beginning with understanding the user-story through empathy, validating hypotheses, receiving information through feedback loops, and building solutions with the user in mind. We use this in the creation of our activities to engage students in our program and to make sure that our mental health education is effective for our students. We’re able to build that empathy as proud recent graduates of the public NYC school system. We understand first-hand the lack of resources and access to mental health services in high schools.

This is why student engagement is at the core of FloraMind’s programming. We found that using dialogue is powerful for learning different perspectives from the students and especially to promote conversation on mental health. Since mental health is a challenging topic for educators and students to discuss in the classroom, we use popular culture (hip-hop, celebrities, memes, GIFs and trending news) to make dialogue more relevant and activities to increase student participation.

Our mental health education is uniquely developed through a curriculum that is focused specifically to teach youth about self-care, mental health facts, and social support skills. Having students develop skills in empathy and self-care is critical for them during their academic years as they are exposed to high levels of stress from social and academic needs. Our curriculum is composed of mental health topics that are related to youth mental health issues and developed with the assistance with experts in youth development, education, and mental health. We currently deliver our curriculum through workshops in high schools.

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Here is a layout of our workshops:

  • We establish guidelines with the students with speaking up during participation and establishing a safe space during the workshop.

  • We use icebreakers is important to get the workshop started and encourage student engagement

  • We choose activities that encourage students to share their knowledge and perceptions with the class and we gather this information through evaluations for measurement.

  • The students are encouraged to discuss what certain mental health concepts mean to them and what they already know.

  • We curate engaging videos that are less than 3 minutes to share information to students visually. Cultural icons and music (like Eminem, Selena Gomez, etc.) are also used to help the students relate to the information we are sharing. In NYC and urban schools, hip-hop culture is dominant. We have personally seen how being culturally-relevant improves student engagement.

  • Their opinion is critical for the development of our workshops, activities, and our methods of engagement. We use their interactions with us to make sure we are addressing their questions with mental health and help them develop positive coping skills.

  • At the end, we get post-workshop surveys as well where we measure knowledge learned and attitudes changed!

 This is one of our workshop activities, where we asked students to write words they associate with “Mental Health”.

This is one of our workshop activities, where we asked students to write words they associate with “Mental Health”.

Today, we are partnered with two high schools and have served over 250 students. Our work so far has proved that being inside the classroom, engaging students through discussions, activities, and exercises have been effective and impactful. We’ve seen that by creating safe spaces for students to converse about mental health and illness, they become vulnerable and in turn learn more from each other. We need to have these types of important conversations more often with our youth about their mental health and well-being.

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We’re excited to continue our work on solving the youth mental health crisis and invite you to join us. We hope our story not only sparks more conversation around mental health but inspires you to take action.

If you would like to support FloraMind’s work:

  • Recommend us to a mental health professional, educator, school, or administrator

  • Follow our social media on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn

  • Learn more about about us at www.Floramind.com and contact us through our contact form to set up a meeting or request a workshop

Thank you!

Read other articles by FloraMind’s co-founders:

Is Meditation Actually Beneficial

20 Practical Things I do to Get Out Of A Slump

What Is Mental Health Literacy And Why Is It Important To Educate Teens About Mental Health?


Khandker Ahamed