Reflecting on 1-Year of Heads Up Teens: Thank you, endlessly.

To the close-knit, beautiful, and loving HUT community:

Never would we have thought that one year later, HUT would be the band of friendship and mutual support that it is today. 

What started as a one-person passion project has blossomed into a treasury of personal reflection and research and vulnerable and valiant community voices.

Let this article serve as a collection of our team’s reflections on this past year’s camaraderie, trial-and-a-whole-LOT-of-error, and most of all, love. We hope these words represent a sliver of our immeasurable appreciation for your continuous support and friendship; words cannot fully encapsulate our gratitude. 

Here’s to another year of candid conversation, mutual learning, and collaborative fight to craft a world where mental illness is normalized and understood. 

With endless gratitude and love,

The HUT Team

Kevina Wang:

I want to do something about this.

No. 

I have to do something about this. 

What this something is, or even the rationality of doing anything, I did not know, but all I knew is I was enraged by society’s general indifference. I channeled my anger into words, my ignorance into an effort to learn, and my disappointment into an opportunity; a mental health passion project began. 

One year later, Heads Up Teens has grown into an 8-person team effort that has generated more than 90 blog posts, published mental health stories from the community, and 

To be frank, I hadn’t expected Heads Up Teens to last. Honestly, who would possibly read anything from a blurbing high schooler. And had Heads Up Teens continued to be that, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere. So my dearest gratitude goes out, firstly to this beautiful community that has surfaced, bonded together by our mutual passion for fighting the unacceptable stigma around mental health. 

Our collective fight, fueled by our individual stories, grief, trauma, nausea, and fury is what gives me hope. The status quo culture of mental health is unacceptable; mental illness is stigmatized, mental health literacy is inadequate, and there are not enough effective, accessible treatment options — and everyone in this community is brave enough to honestly recognize this reality. Each and every one of you detests this and have chosen to reject ignorance, and instead, purposefully chosen to fight this. You’ve chosen to fight the status quo by being vulnerable enough to share your story on community voices. You’ve chosen to fight the status quo by learning about mental health from reading blog posts. You’ve chosen to fight the status quo by liking, commenting, and reposting our Instagram posts. You’ve chosen to fight the status quo by marching down the path less taken, the path of more resistance, and it has made all the difference. 

There were countless times I felt like giving up on Heads Up Teens, but the little comments and bursts of support from the community have supplied my passion, and I cannot thank everyone enough.  

Don’t stop learning and yearning. Activism is an interdependent effort where each and every person’s role is critical. Let us continue fighting, learning, and uplifting each other until one day, people accept mental illness fully and enthusiastically and internalize how to take take care of themselves and acquire help. 

I couldn’t possibly write a reflection on this last year of Heads Up Teens without mentioning the team. It is irrefutable that Heads Up Teens would simply not be here today without them. 

To Pranay and Alex who have been here since the start, thank you for your continuous enthusiasm, genuine dedication, and friendship. From invigorating ideas for new initiatives, to never missing a blog post, and always thinking one step deeper than everyone else, you both continue to inspire me every day and I am endlessly grateful. 

To Adam, Maya, Kheira, Jimmy, and Sydney, each of you bring something unique to the team and we wouldn’t be complete without any one of you. Your effort has been integral to Heads Up Teens’ growth, and with your talents, the future is bright. 

 You guys are not just my teammates, but also some of my best friends. 

( I’m sorry everyone. I’ll  stop being so sappy and emotional now.)

May this next year bring another year of candid community conversation, mutual learning, and growth. Happy birthday Heads Up Teens <3

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. 

Pranay Dhawan:

In July of 2020, I got a text from my friend Kevina. I was surprised – we hadn’t spoken since school shut down. In a brief paragraph, she asked if I was interested in joining in on her mental health passion project. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into and I had a bunch of questions, but the answer felt obvious.

Now, one year and dozens of blog posts and a myriad of team meetings, bright ideas, thought-provoking discussions, and first, second, and third drafts later, here we are, still going strong.

Motivation was coursing through our veins when we first started off. Week after week, we’d write new posts and post them up on the blog, eyes wide, proud of our work, imagining our readers feeling inspired, touched, or maybe just intrigued. We were driven. We were aspirational. We were making change.

Heads Up Teens was founded to benefit the greater teenage community. To break the stigma around mental health. And to make it a more comfortable topic for those it impacts most. 

Now, when I look back at what we’ve accomplished, no amount of website analytics, page views, comments, followers, or likes could tell me what we’ve done. What have we really changed?

Is the stigma broken? No. Do mental health disorders still exist? For sure. So what’s all this been for? It’s impossible to tell who or what we’ve changed. That’s probably been the hardest part. 

One of my first articles was about intrusive thoughts. I had recently been having them myself: an enigmatic and unsettling experience. I wrote with hopes of helping out and informing some random teen going through the same thing, sharing my understanding to let them know they weren’t alone. That it was okay. I knew they were out there somewhere.

But I still don’t know if my words made it to them. 

That’s probably been the hardest part. Wanting so badly to help, to create change, to at least numb the pain that mental health issues can cause someone or to just make them feel okay talking about them.

The hardest part is doing your best and merely hoping it worked. 

But I think that’s what it’s all about. Hope. The future is bright. In spite of the immense difficulty of the challenge that lies before us, one absolutely irrefutable lesson that Heads Up Teens has taught me is that our generation is capable of a lot. Getting involved in the mental health community has introduced me to so many amazing teens. Each with their own struggles and stories, but all sharing the same intense drive to surpass any obstacles that get in the way of the destigmatization and structurally improving mental health among teens. Be it through normalizing discussion, increasing equitable access to resources, or conducting essential medical research, we are capable and the future is bright.

Changing the world’s attitude towards mental health is an uphill battle, a titanic task to be taken on. But within each of us is the ability to be relentless, to persevere, and force change on the world around us. I consider my work on the blog as a minuscule part of what it’ll take to create large changes, but it means a whole lot to me. By internalizing this mission and making it a part of who I am, I see each new day as an opportunity to change just one person. A task as big as what we face may only be overcome by continuous small actions among a large population. While the acts I take are relatively small, they are the start of a large snowball effect.

Finally, aside from mental health as a general issue, being on Heads Up Teens has allowed me to be a better, happier version of myself. I’ve been so fortunate to work with tenacious people like Kevina, Alex, Adam, and Maya. They’re hard-working, intelligent, and motivating. They always get me thinking with their unique ideas and inspire me to be a better person. Working with them and hearing their thoughts has taught me so much about mental health and given me many important lessons I continuously apply. Heads Up Teens has allowed me to develop some amazing friendships, and for that, I am infinitely grateful. To the HUT team, you guys are my best friends and I appreciate the heck out of you.

Alex Choi:

After a year of working for Heads Up Teens, I find myself now reflecting on my writing and to what effect it’s had on our viewers. While I juggle responsibilities in the managerial and marketing realms, I’ve always thought of myself as a writer first. Maybe it’s the inner artisan within me, but it brings me the most satisfaction to tangibly create something, to make rather than maintain. Here, I’d like to give some insight on what writing these articles for a year has meant to me, and why I keep writing to this day.

Often, I don’t imagine masses of digital viewers looking at my articles for solidarity, but rather sparse individuals taking a moment of brief introspection that keeps them firmly grounded in the present. While our vision statement is, “To make a world where teens are accepting of their own and other peoples’ mental health,” I think that puts too much responsibility on any single piece. My article isn’t destroying the construct of toxic masculinity or solving social anxiety. I even objectively acknowledge a year later that mental health is a topic that still draws strong stigmatization, yet I still write. I write and write knowing the limited capacity words can hold, yet that doesn’t mean my work is purposeless. I still find the motivation, no, rather the inclination to keep writing and producing articles in the hope that I’m sparking those seconds of introspection and reflection. 

In a sense, that’s what I feel like we’re all doing: filling in the missing gaps over and over even when we know new gaps will inevitably open up. A lightbulb you screw in today is only as good until its next flicker, and then it’s back to screwing in a new one. However, it’s that continuity of triumph and re-triumph, that life is inexplicably caprice is why I feel the need to keep writing and sharing my work with the world. I never know who I’m talking to or what context I’m entering into, but I can still find pride in making my imprint and filling in my gap for the time being. Providing a few moments of equanimity doesn’t seem like much, but it’s me fulfilling my part in a grander movement for mental health awareness. I don’t expect my work to be the catalyst to fixing someone’s life for a continuum, but I do think there’s value in just creating and being, that I can look back over the course of time and scroll my profile to see all the tens of thousands of words I’ve strung together for real-breathing people to gaze upon in their most vulnerable moments.

In the way I see it, some unsuspecting stranger stumbles upon what you’ve created, which then alters their own creation in the slightest way, which alters another and another until the whole chain comes back to you as you look upon someone’s art and your next work is unconsciously influenced. Art is a harmonious circle rather than individual bubbles of genius. Personally, I think that sort of cyclical nature is beautiful, and it inspires my work consistently for the last year. 

All of you reading this article are essential links in that greater artistic creation chain, and I can’t be more appreciative of your interconnected existence. The favor is returned back to me each and every day, and I look forward to continuing to do my part and filling all the gaps that will arise.

Adam Xu:

For the longest time, I had swept my mental health under the rug and dismissed the struggles of others. I’m not sure why I did this, maybe it was just the jovial ignorance that we all eventually outgrow. But, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it was something more than that. I believe that for the majority of my life I had fed into the toxic societal expectation that boys need to be strong and that men don’t cry. I was afraid to look at myself in the mirror and find someone who was “broken” or someone that could not cope with the struggle. This manifestation of self-hatred projected itself into my opinions of those around me and my perspectives about the world. Without knowing it, I had begun to fuel the very issues that created this mindset. 

Years passed before I had finally built up the courage to look at myself in that proverbial mirror and realize I had to make a change. The voices in my head weren’t getting any quieter as the stressors around me began to pile up. I had reached a breaking point. 

Fortunately, I had some amazing people around me that I was able to lean on. Those people encouraged me to take steps towards bettering my own mental health and become comfortable with the understanding that I won’t always be okay. However, I also began to see that society isn’t always kind to those who are struggling. I wanted to make a change, but where could I start? After all, I was just a high school student who just found out about the importance of mental health.

How in the world was I going to help anybody? 

It wasn’t until Alex reached out to me to write about my personal experiences for the HeadsUpTeens Community Voices page, where I began to find that answer. It was a large step out of my comfort zone, but for some reason, I was strongly compelled to take it. Little did I know this would be one of the most instrumental decisions in my entire mental health journey. Building up the courage to be vulnerable in the public eye took a lot of courage, but with that came an entire community that supported me. 

And therein my answer lied. 

In order to create the change that I so desired, it was never about helping any individual person directly. But rather to create a community in which each person felt their individual voices were heard and one in which people can struggle without feeling the entire weight of the world on their shoulders. That’s what it was always and will continue to be about. 

This movement isn’t a one-way train, making the occasional stop to help treat a person’s ailments then moving on. Rather, it’s an ever-expanding tapestry of experiences that uplifts each and every member of its community through the pain, suffering, and euphoria that comes from being human. I know that this tapestry wasn’t started by HeadsUpTeens, but as I reflect on this past year, I can’t help but be proud of the pieces we have woven into its fabric. In this far-off corner of the internet lies a growing community of amazing individuals who have put an immortalized stamp on the mental health awareness movement. Whether it was commenting on a social media post, writing a community voice, or reaching out to support someone’s work, it has truly been incredible to witness it all. No matter the role, every single person involved in this journey has made an impact on someone, somewhere, somehow that has rippled throughout the world. 

With that being said, being just a small strand within this community has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I have grown and matured in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined. The vulnerability that I’ve become accustomed to showcasing has led me towards relationships and opportunities that have changed my life. Having the security of knowing that my voice is not only heard but supported by countless people has meant the world to me. Being able to communicate my thoughts free of judgment is something that I didn’t know existed. 

I want to thank each and every person that has been a part of this journey for making it worthwhile. The outpouring of support and reassurance that our efforts do have an impact has made me appreciate the unique opportunity and blessing that is HeadsUpTeens all the more. It also wouldn’t be right to go without mentioning Alex, Pranay, and Kevina, I can’t imagine being a part of a better team. Their passion, kindness, and intuition inspire me each and every day.

So as I look to the future of this blog, and more importantly this incredible movement, I can’t help but be filled with hope and excitement. I can’t wait to see what looms ahead 🙂

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