Find Your Smile

by Surabhi Verma


The number of people with declining mental health is unfortunately increasing rapidly. Getting more isolated and fatigued, many people have been caught in a web of mental struggles. Day by day, this web grows, yet manages to stay hidden in the dark. Society has put a disgrace upon mental illnesses, so much so that people continue to suffer in silence. We as a society need to understand that mental illnesses are a serious issue that must not be taken lightly. About 1 in 5 teenagers suffer from at least one mental health disorder (Polaris Teen Center, par 2), and approximately 70% of these people do not receive needed care. (Schwarz, par 3).

There is an unfortunate stigma on mental illnesses, which is why we as a society lack the emotional support needed to help people who are struggling mentally. A brown girl like me was often stereotyped to be the curry-eating genius with perfect grades and a bright future. The pressure to succeed in academics was high, but there was greater pressure to not cause disappointment. Poor mental health was seen as an imperfection, and being imperfect was not an option. My identity revolved around the accepted stereotypes of society.

When asked, “what makes you unique,” I never used to know how to respond. Was it that I could play the flute? Or that I could tell the story of the Ramayana? Perhaps that I could speak three languages? It would be a puzzling, frustrating question because in reality, I never felt that I was unique. I never felt different from others – I only felt that I was worse than them. My struggle was beyond the tips of my masala fingers or the knowledge in my brain.

August 10th, 2021, I returned to in person school, thankful for the mask mandate as I walked through the school halls with immense shame as my 2019 skinny body had now become double its size. I had admiration for a girl who lost weight by restricting her food intake; so, as any genius would do, I took the same steps a successful person took and cut my food intake. This is something many people suffer in silence due to the idea of a “perfect body” – what society accepts. I became a math and memory game genius, memorizing the calories to every food item and calculating my total caloric input for the day, making sure it never exceeded 900 calories. My mind was consumed only with numbers – number of calories, number of pounds, number of carbohydrates – consuming food felt a sin; thinking of food consumed me. For a year I lost the feeling of being happy with those I loved.

“I’m going to become a computer scientist” had now become a foreign goal of mine. Recovered from my disordered eating, I became passionate about helping those struggling with themselves. With this personal experience, I found strength to share my story and help others going through a similar situation. In September 2022, I contacted my high school’s Wellness Center’s counselor to share an idea I believed would be a wonderful way to provide support to the students at my school. When I was struggling with body image and disordered eating, the one thing I needed most was a person I could talk to, someone who could understand me and be of utmost support. At the time, I wasn’t entirely comfortable discussing this with an adult, but unquestionably felt that I could share this with a student of my age.

Beginning what we called the “Peer-to-Peer Mentor Program,” junior and senior high school students were trained to become mentors to provide support and help to other students who were going through a difficult time. I myself was paired with a student who was struggling with poor mental health and being there for her and helping her brought me utmost joy. She asked me “I’ve never really had any friends – do you want to be my friend?” Seeing that I created that trust with her made me especially happy.

I joined my city’s Teen Council because I wanted to be a part of a group of people who really advocated for mental health and real change. On Unity Day, we set up a table where students could write words of kindness and tied an orange band around their wrist, uniting students for acceptance, inclusion, and kindness to promote bullying prevention. As part of Teen Council, I am now focusing on promoting mental health to middle schoolers by planning to organize presentations and events to bring awareness on this topic.

I see the future of mental health improving through people my age. By advocating for teenage support in aiding others who were struggling with their mental health, a safe community was created where mental health was destigmatized. Numerous students have found help over the past two years through the Peer-to-Peer Mentor Program, and I hope to continue to provide strength to others by being the light to their darkness. I want to help others find their smile like I was able to find mine



Works Cited

Polaris Teen. “Important Teen Mental Health Statistics for Parents.” Polaris Teen Center: Premier Adolescent Treatment Center in Los Angeles, 15 Jan. 2021,

Susan Wile Schwarz, et al. “Adolescent Mental Health in the United States: Facts for Policymakers.” NCCP,

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