At Success Academy, we take mental health just as seriously as physical health. That’s why we’ve partnered with Uwill to provide easy access to counseling and other tools for high school scholars, all at no cost. That’s also why, near the beginning of the pandemic, current HSLA–Manhattan senior Awa Traore and her advisor, Marwah Sheikh, started the Mental Health Club.
Created during a time of uncertainty and anxiety, Mental Health Club has blossomed into a place of safety and openness, where members can share their feelings and feel heard. We sat down with Traore, the president of the club, to hear more about how it was created — and what it’s been like to see it develop.
Why was the Mental Health Club started?
Our school is very big, so especially with the onset of the pandemic, there weren’t really a lot of outlets for people to come join or just express how they feel. I was talking with my advisor, Ms. Sheikh, and other counselors who knew me very well, and they proposed I start a club. I wanted to build a safe space for not only myself but others so that they could share similar stories and experiences together.
What do you do during meetings?
Though it depends, we usually sit in a circle and discuss topics that we hope will spark thinking and change, so people can take what they learned from the club and pass that along to the rest of school and home. Sometimes we have a set topic we research and present to the class.
For example, we recently covered the importance of confidence. The way we view ourselves, and the way we think others view us — it’s all in our heads! To become more confident, we have to radically accept our insecurities and understand that we are people, we make mistakes, and that should not dictate how we should feel about ourselves. Also, others’ opinions are just a reflection of how they feel about themselves, so never let that get to you.
How do you balance being a club president with school and extracurriculars?
I accept that life throws a lot at you to juggle; and that things often come and go. There are certain days when you’re so tired that you want to give up, but you just have to realize that those feelings are just for now. They’re not how you’re going to feel 10 days from now, or even how you felt yesterday — it’s just the pressures and anxieties of today. I don’t allow myself to hold any of that anxiety, and release my anger and frustration.
What has the club helped you learn?
Whenever people come to the club and they share their experiences, you just carry that with you. Just listening to people share their experiences, or being around other people with their different mindsets, helps broaden my world.
People have their own issues, and instead of just saying, “You have to do this, you have to do that,” I learned I should take it easy and realize that people come from different stances. I try to just level myself to help them with their issues if I can, or do my best to uplift and understand what positivity means to them. Because my definition of positivity, light, and happiness isn’t the same for them.
What would your advice be for someone who wants to start a club?
Pitch and plan out your club idea, and make sure it has a purpose, whether it’s to serve the community or have a fun time with your friends. Starting a club without a purpose means you’re just putting a group out there aimlessly! Even if you feel like your club doesn’t have a purpose, you can find one. Also, there is a lot that goes into running a club, so make sure it’s organized. And whenever times get tough, don’t beat yourself up. Take a breather, or step away for a day or two if you need to. Take a step back and try to find where all that anxiety and stress is coming from. Some things may require a lot of work, but it’s never impossible.