It’s a hot, sunny day and hundreds of people with numbers fastened on their chests gather behind a white banner denoting the starting point. As the whistle blows and the 5K run starts, long-legged runners, tottering adolescents, women with pushing strollers all burst into action. This is a race, but not one to see who can run the fastest. For junior Olivia Enriquez, the founder and event coordinator of Stride for Awareness, every person running this race has already made a winning effort in the battle for mental health awareness.
According to Time magazine, more high school students are burdened by anxiety and depression each year since 2012, so Enriquez founded Stride for Awareness, an organization designed to raise awareness for mental health issues like these. Stride for Awareness hosts an annual community run that raises awareness for student health and psychological wellbeing.
“The run was a great community bonding experience,” Enriquez said. “You just saw the community come together and get to know organizations and resources that they have available to them.”
Enriquez originally established Stride for Awareness to gain a Girl Scout silver award, which is given to Girl Scouts who create sustainable change in the local community, but the program expanded to collaborate with the San Mateo Police Activities League. Enriquez is currently trying to register Stride for Awareness as a nonprofit organization.
Part of Enriquez’s decision to raise awareness for student mental well-being stems from her personal experiences.
“[I focused on] student wellness specifically because I have a problem [with anxiety], and I’m a student and I still see my friends struggling,” she said. “High school is a very stressful time, and I want to show students that [there are] so many resources available to them.”
She hopes to create a safe, comfortable environment to support people who struggle with mental health issues by encouraging open conversation and initiative.
“Discussion and involvement with these kinds of things help people get comfortable with talking about [mental health],” she said. “[Getting] to know organizations and resources that they have available to them is great so they can actually get help. The point of this event is to show people that they have all these resources available to them that they’re unaware of … There is not just counselling, but other ways to help maintain a healthy mind and body. You could do sports, or you could do yoga to help your mind or you could do some writing to help clear your mind. There is more than just one way to help your wellbeing. ”
However, there are still some obstacles to overcome in the fight for mental health awareness. Stigma is one of the biggest battles associated with mental health that Enriquez is still trying to break.
“Getting people comfortable with talking about [mental illness] and getting involved with it is [a] struggle,” she said. “My long-term goal for this organization is to continue to [raise awareness for mental health] every year … [Mental health] is an issue that we should always be addressing.”
Despite the permanency and lingering effects of mental health battles, Enriquez still sees hope and merit in initiative for mental health awareness.
“The most rewarding part [of Stride for Awareness] is just seeing that the community comes together,” she said. “We all bond, we all meet each other and we all see that we’re not alone, we’re not the only ones who have anxiety, we’re not the only ones who are sad and depressed, we’re not the only ones who are struggling with certain things academically, socially or in your family. Just to see that people are relating to each other and connecting through their issues and being able to talk about it is the most rewarding thing for me.”
Enriquez also encourages those who want to help in their local community to inspire change themselves.
“Find what you’re passionate about, find what you really like doing and just think big,” she said. “Even if it sounds absolutely impossible for you to do, if you think you can do it you can, I would never think about having my own nonprofit.”