On June 16, 2019, a small crowd of people gathered in the rain at Boston Common for a youth-led Mental Health Rally. Organized by young activist Emily Weinberg, this rally advocated for legislative action promoting mental health education in schools.
A senior at Lexington High School (LHS), Weinberg is an alumna of the ACLU Summer Advocacy Institute and co founded the gun violence prevention group Lexington Says Enough. She also found a deeply personal cause in mental health activism. At 15 years old, Weinberg worked towards treating her depression, anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) at McLean Hospital. According to her, “it was probably the experience in my life that had the most significant impact on me.”
Wanting to provide support to others affected by mental illness, Weinberg started posting about mental health on Instagram and created a website, Sophrosyne Mental Health, to help teens understand their brains and access resources.
But she didn’t stop there. She wanted her community to take action, too. In a statement, Weinberg said she got the idea for a mental health rally because she wanted a social event to get to know others who had mental illnesses similar to hers, because she often felt like she was the only one she knew with BPD.
In April of 2019, she started planning. According to Weinberg, “Seeing the statistics of suicide and the attacks on the mentally ill community really pushed me to organize as soon as I could. Mental illness is and will always be a health crisis that we can work to prevent or at least help those struggling cope, but it is something that can’t wait, because people’s lives are being taken away constantly by suicide.”
Indeed, the statistics are harrowing. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 47,173 Americans lost their lives to suicide in 2017 alone.
Although this widespread problem cannot be easily fixed, Weinberg hoped to make a difference in Massachusetts. Looking at Bill S.244, a petition by Massachusetts Senator Nick Collins and other members of the general court for legislative action related to mental health education, she found a clear focus for the event. The Mental Health Rally mission statement includes, “It should be a requirement for students, grades 5 through 12 to become familiar with self care and taking care of their mental health...We plan to take legislative action in support of bills similar to that of bill S.244 of Massachusetts and tackle things from a systematic standpoint, as well as cultural.”
Backed by The Youth Activism Project, a Maryland based organization, Weinberg found others who supported her mental health advocacy. She found an invaluable ally in Yuliana Astorga-Licardie, a fellow student LHS. Astorga-Licardie, who hopes to have a future in activism or teaching, joined forces with Weinberg to help plan the mental health rally.
Another LHS student, Emily Zhou, became a powerful contributor to the cause. Zhou, who enjoys painting and volunteering, is passionate about advocating for and deconstructing the stigma behind mental illness. In a statement, she said, “Two years ago, I would have never imagined that I’d ever gather up enough courage to speak openly about my struggles with mental illness, let alone assist in leading a mental health rally. Mental health is an incredibly meaningful topic to me since being diagnosed OCD and anxiety, I understand how much it can consume someone’s everyday life...From it [the rally], I have learned that mental illness is never something that should be stuffed away and masked over; instead, seeking help and finding strategies to cope and overcome will stop letting mental illness define someone and start letting them radiate their strength."
The leaders worked tirelessly in the weeks leading up to the event and their hard work came to fruition on the day of the rally, which took place on June 16, 2019, at Parkman Bandstand in Boston Common. To describe her feelings about that day in Boston Common, Astorga-Licardie said, “Although there were not a lot of people [around 20]... it did feel amazing to see how everything turned out. Just being there and seeing all the people who support mental health felt so good.”
Brave New Films spotlights Sophrosyne in their series Following Their Lead: Youth in Action. Released online August 28, 2019, the short documentary focused on the importance of youth suicide prevention and included footage from the rally.
Don’t despair if you missed it this year. The tentative date for the 2020 rally is May 18. The Sophrosyne Mental Health website will release any new updates. Not from the Boston area? Plan a sibling rally in your area.