As a freshman starting at Villa Park High School in Orange County in 2018, Christina Diep found it hard to adjust. She was attending a different school than most of her middle school friends, and it seemed that just as she was starting to build friendships, the pandemic hit. As she navigated school and social life over Zoom, texts, and FaceTime, she -- like many other teens -- was feeling isolated and sad.
Thankfully, Diep connected with students in 2019 at Villa Park’s Club Rush Day, who had formed a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) On Campus High School club. The club quickly became an essential support for Diep, providing a safe forum where she could talk about her mental health with peers and learn about resources to get help.
With funding from Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky youth mental health initiative, NAMI California has expanded its on Campus High School clubs throughout the state, increasing membership from 1,051 in 2020 to 1,271 participants in 80 clubs across 16 counties in 2022. The clubs provide peer-led support for students with mental health conditions, students whose family members have a condition, or students who are interested in the field or in advocacy – all focused on the goal of reducing mental health stigma among youth.
Through peer-led activities and education, including workshops and training, youth like Diep are empowered with mental health supports. As a senior this year, she has taken a leadership role in her school’s club and is delighted to share that 70 classmates registered for the club last fall -- more than quadrupling previous participation.
“Over the pandemic, my interest grew in the mental health community,” Diep said. “Now I’m the club president, I’m feeling better about managing my challenges, and I’m excited for what the rest of my senior year and future holds.”
The power of peer support
Last year’s BlueSky statewide survey found that 54% of youth talked about their mental health with a friend. Sofia Amezcua, program manager for NAMI On Campus, confirmed that engaging youth to help each other is an important part of care.
“We know that some of the best support a student can receive is from peers,” Amezcua said. “When students connect with one another, they can share common experiences and support each other through the transitions. NAMI On Campus helps make those connections happen.”
Being part of the club has strengthened Diep’s aspirations to become a pediatrician. Currently enrolled in AP psychology, Diep hopes to declare that as her major next fall. She nervously and excitedly awaits college acceptance.
“I want to work in the medical field and help others the way NAMI and our district counselors have helped me learn about mental health, its disorders, illnesses, and ways to cope,” she said.
For more information on how Blue Shield of California is advocating for youth mental health supports, visit BlueSky.
Visit NAMI California to learn how to start a NAMI On Campus High School Club and to read about other mental health support and services available for all Californians.