Congratulations to Our 2021 Scholarship Winners!

The Race to End the Stigma Scholarship was created by the Carlos Vieira Foundation to start the conversation about mental health. The Race to End the Stigma Scholarship is granted annually to graduating high school seniors who are interested in mental health awareness or who are willing to share their story about mental health in an effort to end the stigma. We are excited to announce the ten recipients of our Race to End the Stigma Scholarship for the 2020-2021 School Year!


Andres Stidger

Andres Stidger

Anna Jian

Anna Jian

Annie Roe

Annie Roe

Breanna Smith

Breanna Smith

Chloe Mendoza

Chloe Mendoza

Emma Carney

Emma Carney

Isabella Porras

Isabella Porras

Jordan Rasmussen

Jordan Rasmussen

Mia Watanabe-Knight

Mia Watanabe-Knight

Yaneli Guerra-Hernandez

Yaneli Guerra-Hernandez


Scholarship Essays

Click the tabs below to see each of the essays submitted by our scholarship recipients. 

*The essays are in no particular order and are being kept anonymous*

Help start the conversation about mental health by telling a story of how you or a loved one has been affected by mental health, whether positive or negative, and how it has affected your life. Some examples can include experiencing or overcoming a mental health issue, improving one’s own mental health, etc.

I have never known the security of a stable home environment. Since the 2008 housing crisis, my family and I have relocated 11 times. We moved to cities throughout the Central Valley, but our most substantial move was to the Dominican Republic in 2015.

 As a rising seventh grader, I was apprehensive about the move. I was adaptable, but I had never experienced change like this. Waking in a foreign country three thousand miles away from everything familiar was jarring. Anxiety began to flood over me. Routine activities, like going to the grocery store and meeting people, became overwhelming. The country I was in did not feel like home, but then again, had I ever known what home truly feels like?

 In this unknown place, I protected myself using the coping mechanisms I had developed years ago. I avoided most social situations and found solace in going to the movie theatre, where I felt no pressure to interact with others. In my mind, this prevented me from becoming too attached to somewhere new, in fear of it being ripped away too soon. But regardless of what I did, anxiety still lingered.

By thirteen I was consumed by this anxious fog. Since I couldn’t find stability, I desperately craved other forms of escape. I discovered some of my favorite bands and became inspired to begin social justice advocacy. I also found a true friend in the Dominican Republic, and we developed a deep connection and became inseparable. I spent countless hours with my siblings and grew closer to them. These moments and relationships became my peace and momentary clarity.

I also began to explore different ways to express my emotions. I started to write, not only about my fears, but about my depression, anxiety, and the people in my community. Poems spilled out of me into my journal, forming a chasm of vulnerability on the page. I didn’t know how much weight my feelings held until I wrote them down.

 This release was gratifying, and I yearned for more. In high school, I joined the student newspaper staff to delve deeper into writing and journalism. Alongside this, I continued to pen my experiences of young adulthood, including navigating my identity as a queer woman and grappling with complex emotions. When I shared my poems with my mentors, they encouraged me to submit a piece to the CSU, Fresno’s Young Writers’ Conference. I was awarded and published in a collection of creative writing, titled Spectrum. Later I wrote a piece about anxiety in the newspaper, and peers began reaching out to me, thanking me for my vulnerability and candidness.

 I was astounded that my spilled ink was touching so many people, and it gave me a sense of responsibility to seek out others’ truths and give life to raw emotions. Through writing, I became a fierce advocate for mental health awareness and social justice, both on my campus and in my small, conservative town. As a result, I was accepted to attend the ACLU’s Youth Advocacy Institute for two consecutive years, which furthered my passion for advocacy.

Over the years, I have learned to keep myself anchored through my family, friends, and passions. I have formed unbreakable bonds with those closest to me, and although I may always feel somewhat out of place, I know I can overcome anything. Pushing myself to always try and to keep moving forward has become an invaluable part of my overall motivation. While I have never experienced the stability of a childhood home, I’ve come to learn that home isn’t a place. Instead it exists in the memories I have made and inner strength I have developed.

Help start the conversation about mental health by telling a story of how you or a loved one has been affected by mental health, whether positive or negative, and how it has affected your life. Some examples can include experiencing or overcoming a mental health issue, improving one’s own mental health, etc.”

"Donguri korokoro donburiko. Oike ni hamatte..." I sang, surrounded by my peers. It was a typical day in kindergarten, or yochien, in Japan and I stood proudly in my school uniform, singing my off-key heart out. I had always looked forward to choir, not necessarily because of the shaky performances of various nursery rhymes, but because it was one of the only times I felt a part of something. Finally apart of a            group, working together towards a common goal. Friends, almost.

The ostracization I felt during my early years in Japan due to being half-black in a largely homogenous country hurt, but I understood. We were young, I looked different, and different was weird. As I grew older and moved back to the states for schooling, the feeling of exclusion began to seep away, but still lingered, fueled by the occasional slur or ignorant comment. Ignorance I could deal with; I knew my heritage was something to be proud of and that didn't waver. However, my understanding of myself and my sexuality did waver, which scared me beyond belief. I felt like a ghost trying to find my way back to my body and when I did, the thoughts would go away.

They didn't.

This internalized homophobia hung above me like a storm cloud, constantly denying my own identity in the attempt to retain my other ones. The consistent denial caused immense anxiety, feeling as though someone was going to figure out what I was so desperate to hide. School became a place of anxiety and home was just the same. I was ostracizing myself everywhere I went.

I’d like to think this was the reasoning for my decline in mental health, just so I could have something to blame. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t my brain, it was my circumstances, right? The panic attacks and inability to leave my bed for days at a time impacted my schooling, family life, and, of course, myself. I felt weak asking for help from anyone, so I spiraled further and my mental health worsened. I felt as though I was being swallowed whole and sinking, only going through life as a ghost.

Eventually, it went to the worst place it could’ve and I attempted suicide August of 2019. I survived, obviously, and went to the emergency room to ensure my kidney hadn’t failed from the large acetaminophen intake. This event led to a couple years of on-and-off therapy and attempts at different antidepressants (currently, it’s Zoloft). These experiences changed my life, for better or for worse, and taught me more about myself and others. Because of the stigma surrounding mental health, you never know what someone is going through, just as most people didn’t know about my struggles. Improving this stigma allows for people to ask for help without shame, possibly preventing a worsening of state and life-threatening behaviors.

Nowadays, I’ve learned certain activities to slowly improve myself. Meditating, coloring, working out; although seemingly all mundane, helps more than I’d thought. CBT therapy helped tremendously as well, even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy it. This information and access to resources isn’t available to everyone, even though it can be lifesaving and a necessity.

For me, it helped me find my way back to my body, no longer a ghost. Finally feeling a part of something, just as I did at yochien.

I come from San Joaquin vineyards and hues of brown skin. Raisin Festivals, farm workers, and barrios. Selma, California is unique in its resilience and character, a small town populated by the children of those that fill the fruit basket of the world. This community has gifted me with life, strength of heart, and self-understanding, all while facing its own challenges.

Last March the COVID-19 pandemic violently struck my valley hometown, and local cases surged for many months. Our high school was uniquely affected and adopted distance learning for the next year. As the pandemic raged, I became exhausted, unmotivated, and pessimistic. Left alone with my thoughts, I was faced with my struggles and my mental health began to decline. I wondered if others were experiencing the same thing.

I discovered that many young people were experiencing the same phenomenon. I became engaged in discussions about depression and anxiety with my friends and peers. Distance learning and the perpetual trauma of the pandemic—as well as social unrest—were taking a severe toll on my generation. I realized that as a leader at my high school, I was in the position to make positive change in my community. I wanted to spark more of these crucial conversations and create more accessibility to resources by spreading a positive message about wellness and mental health.

So I collaborated with a partner and we met with our high school mental health team. After some consideration, we created The Wellness Corner- Bear Talks, a weekly video segment—featuring our school therapy dog Jeter— that explores important mental health topics, interviews staff and students, and provides resources to students. Since founding Bear Talks, our team has worked to increase accessibility to mental health resources by creating student care packages, break mental health stigma, normalize treatment, and provide more robust support to our BIPOC peers. One of the most important things our team has done is work with staff to promote empathy for students. Through surveys and data collection, we learned that many students felt under-supported and misunderstood by their educators. So we made it our mission to bridge this disconnect and push our faculty to see their students for who they are and the struggles they’re going through.

The educational content we have created has since been received with excitement and positivity. We have discussed topics like male mental health, self-care, motivation, and celebrating small successes. In January 2021 we hosted Selma High School’s first Webinar with the local Marjaree Mason Center about healthy relationships. Last month, our team presented to the Selma Unified School District about the importance of mental health work done by students.

Due to my work with Bear Talks, I am now one of two Jeter the Therapy Dog Ambassadors. Over the past year I have worked to impact my high school and community because I understand the importance of reducing the stigma around mental health issues and doing preventative work. I know now that therapy and counseling are not just for crisis, but as part of healthy wellness practices. On this journey I have also learned more about myself and know that my work is not done. I look forward to continuing down this path and learning more about mental health along the way. For after all, as we say at the end of every Bear Talks segment, “it’s a good day to have a good day!”

Help start the conversation about mental health by telling a story of how you or a loved one has been affected by mental health, whether positive or negative, and how it has affected your life. Some examples can include experiencing or overcoming a mental health issue, improving one’s own mental health, etc.

Trich·o·til·lo·ma·ni·a

Most mornings, I would walk into the bathroom half-asleep, where my mother sprayed my hair with cold water while dragging a brush through it. In her eyes, I was a reflection of her parenting so I always needed to look my best. This belief was echoed throughout my elementary school years, as my mother would brush my hair into two, neatly taut pigtails. It wasn’t uncommon to walk out of the bathroom with tears in my eyes due to how tight the pigtails were as my mother told me "Beauty knows no pain.” Up until fifth grade, I had long, thick, straight, brown hair. This distinction made me feel significant, a characteristic that belonged to me.

This childlike innocence disappeared, the day my mother convinced me to cut my hair. I soon realized how big of a role my hair played in my life. As the cliché goes, “Your hair is your crown and glory,” and it felt as if my crown was being stripped away from me and now my identity was gone. Being 10 years old, I didn’t understand the feeling of anxiety. I channeled my suffering back into my appearance and began to pull out my beautiful, brown hair, strand by strand.

This constant hair-pulling continued unnoticed until the first blatant bald spot appeared above my forehead. My mother’s face filled with horror, asking me what I had done to my hair, and a massive weight of guilt pressed down on my shoulders. Bricks of guilt stacked like towers as people asked me the same question: “You have such beautiful hair; why do you pull out your hair?” These words tore down my confidence, as shame creeped in for what I had done, but frustration also became apparent because of my inability to ex press my struggles. But this same fixation that helped me cope also began to ruin my self-confidence.

Trichotillomania is a mental illness disorder that cannot be cured by medication or therapy sessions and I learned that management comes from within myself. Being self-aware and knowing what triggers my impulse to pull my hair has helped me to keep my disorder under control. I have come to realize the importance of growth. Learning to forgive myself for altering what others saw as my crown and glory was essential, and patience towards myself became routine. It’s been 4 years since my hair grew back to its original appearance, but my personal growth hasn’t stopped. The experiences I have continued to water the seed of physical, behavioral, and emotional change as I boldly step outside my comfort zone.

I am a reflection of my mother’s hard work, yet throughout my journey I’ve learned my positive attributes reflect my self-worth. My identity goes beyond the tendency to pull my hair. I am someone who has grown from pain, and has learned from mistakes and loss. It’s these experiences that make me a stronger individual and why I will be the most successful person going into this next chapter of my life. So if you pass me on the streets, know how deep these roots are, and know the trials I’ve overcome to get where I am today.

Help start the conversation about mental health by telling a story of how you or a loved one has been affected by mental health, positive or negative, and how it has affected your life. Some exampled can include experiencing or overcoming a mental health issue, improving one’s own mental health, etc.

Going into 2021—after a year of bad decisions, intense anxiety, unremitting self-sabotage, self-loathing, and feeling lost and alone and hateful—I manifested, intended, and affirmed to cultivate neutrality and intentionality into my life. My whole life has been a battle of extremes. I find myself leaping from one side of the scale to the other—sometimes I jump so far, I’m floating somewhere out in a vast expanse of nothingness. I find myself hating the world and everything it has thrown my way. I hate the people walking down the street that simply exist and smile and laugh with each other. I hate my mom for taking up the same space as me, and my dad for having little capacity to be a decent dad. I feel like everything is hopeless, like the world is out to get me. Then, I’ll wake up and feel nothing but awe, nothing but thankfulness for the life I’ve been provided. To have the freedom I have, to have my family and friends, to learn and grow and understand my worth—it is an exceptional feeling. I actively choose to remove toxic people; the people that project their self-loathing onto me, the people that can’t see my worth because they can’t see their own. I wake up and choose to substitute social media with meditation, yoga for lying in bed. I choose to stretch to take care of my year-long somatic back pain, and choose to take care of my asthma that, by no coincidence, developed two years ago during an intensely difficult time of my life. I choose productivity and self-care, inner-work and shadow work, self-help and self-healing.

I find myself riding the waves of my life, having no idea what mood tomorrow will bring, and having no faith in myself to maintain a good mood hour to hour. I don’t have a definite answer for why I have frequent highs and lows with little neutrality, but I know food largely determines my mood, and I know I have a complicated relationship with it. I know I became conscience of my body in second grade when I would walk around the playground and stare at my stomach and worry I was pregnant. Sweatshirts became my style, a style that followed me until freshman year. But it was eighth grade that I fully fell into the self-deprecating cycle of food and exercise obsession. First, I walked three miles to school instead of driving with my mom and brother. Then, I introduced exercise. As a three-sport athlete, I had practice and games five days a week, every week of the school year. After practices, I would go home and work out for two to four hours. A missed workout equaled a mixed meal. Logically, I had to earn my food. Five to ten minutes of abs in the morning earned me an apple for breakfast. Because I couldn’t figure out a way to workout at school, lunch was always a difficult meal for me to come to terms with. If I ate dinner without exercising, I had to throw it up for being “disgusting” and “undedicated” and “lazy.” Eighth grade is, shockingly, defined by my eating disorder. It trumps all, and I have difficulty recalling the social events my friends reminisce over because food, working out, and my body were always on my mind.

Four years later, I still struggle with this. I look back on it and think, “Wow, I was going through it. Thank God I overcame that mindset.” My eating disorder is lurking in every dessert, every meal I binge-eat, every meal I skip. It’s looming over my head when I want to push breakfast back a few hours to eat fewer meals that day. It’s there when I’m irrationally angry from hunger, or deeply drained and depressed. It’s even in my back pain, from when I exercised to the point of self-injury last summer. It’s in the fear to exercise again because I might not be strong enough to avoid putting my worth in how sore I feel. It’s in the fear of food and physical activity determining if I see my friends, or if I’ll be happy enough with myself. My eating disorder is something I work every day to overcome. Because the reality is it’s not a phase of my life, but an everyday, conscience effort of health and wellness. Every day, I wake up and choose to not shame myself for taking care of my body; to accept who I am and not obsess over the natural fluctuations of my body. Because deep down, I know that weight shouldn’t matter. The fat on my sides is no indicator of my worthiness, my hip dips don’t show my personality. What I can offer the world isn’t dictated by the food I consume, or my ability to work it off. I shouldn’t plan my life around my meals, nor should I hate myself when I feel full or look bigger from the beginning to the end of the day. My eating disorder is a minute by minute choice, a self-awareness test that I have dedicated 2021—and beyond—to mastering. And, for the first time in my life, I’m excited to be on this journey, to know myself better each day. I’m excited to learn about my boundaries, my self-sabotage patterns, my triggers. I’m excited for the trial and error, for the arsenal of self-knowledge to one day allow me to wake up, cook a breakfast, and workout knowing I’m mentally strong enough to keep the eating disorder away.

Help start the conversation about mental health by telling a story of how you or a loved one has been affected by mental health, whether positive or negative, and how it has affected your life. Some examples can include experiencing or overcoming a mental health issue, improving one’s own mental health, etc.

Unease is the first step; a tingly sensation that starts in my fingers, crawling up through my arms, finding residence directly on my chest, until eventually enveloping my entire body. My own mind turns on me as I am unable to control my breathing, my balance, and my perception of my surroundings. I feel disassociated from my body, as I’m looking at the world through the eyes of a stranger. I clutch at my chest as I heavily and jaggedly breathe in and out while hot tears find themselves traversing down my cheek. My throat seems to almost close in on itself while I sob uncontrollably. After it’s over I find myself huddled on the floor and it takes several minutes before I can muster the strength to stand up. I’ve just had a panic attack.

I never knew true fear until I was subject to the irrationality of anxiety. It goes far beyond dry mouth before a presentation or a minor shake in my hands after a socratic seminar; debilitating mental health plagued me for months. It all began with one unpredictable trip to the grocery store. I can remember slamming the brakes and yelling in horror as I drew closer to what I thought would be my death. I bit down on my tongue, my guess is to brace myself, leaving behind prominent bloody teeth marks that would remind me of the incident for weeks to come. My knees smashed up against the interior of the car and while my seatbelt had prevented me from flying out of the windshield, the force of the crash caused my body to lunge forward and hit the steering wheel. In a haze of smoke, the other driver ran over to me, apologizing and asking if

I was okay. The air that previously occupied my lungs had been pushed out and I began to hyperventilate. I was unable to answer his question.

My accident showed me the unpredictability of life. As a person who feels most secure when in control I felt threatened by the world around me, threatened by the innumerable number of things out of my power. From then on, when making a sharp left turn I would tug at my seatbelt reassuring myself that it was strapped on and to some degree I was safe. I would think ahead to how my actions would affect my future, ranging from what outfit I picked out in the morning to what time I left my house in the morning. Everything in my life was uncertain, the stability that once kept me anchored to reality had vanished. Disassociation became my norm. I felt alienated from my own body, as if I had renounced the ability to control my actions and let someone else take reign. I would look down at my own hands and wonder to who they belonged.

I merely existed yet I was not the person who was living. My emotions were increasingly nulled, until my panic attacks were the only experience I could truly feel.

I reluctantly admitted the deterioration of my mental health when others around me began to notice the shift in my personality. They described me as absent, consumed by creeping sadness. I desperately wanted to be the person I once was, the person who had life in them. I sat down with my school psychologist where we attempted to cement me back into a stable position. Yet I felt as if I would never be free of my own mind, forever burdened and betrayed by my fears. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to be completely vulnerable and found a social outlet that told me I wasn’t alone. Through Friday Night Live, I grounded myself in the present. Being attentive to others' stories, not differing from my own, I felt less alone. Surrounded by a network of friends, I felt accepted for who I was, rather than the constant fixation to fix me. I was me again.

Later down the road, I discovered the gift of meditation. I dove into mindfulness, allowing my consciousness to ground itself in the objects around me, in the feel of the weather, the vibrancy of colors, in what it meant to be present. I expanded my realm of thinking by practicing mental strategies meant to alleviate stress and worry. I began by focusing on my breathing until I reached a point of serenity and turmoil. I took all the pieces of tension and piled them into this figurative ball I pictured in my head. I would then simply let the ball slip away and in opening my eyes, I felt untroubled by my prior thoughts. I was met with a new clarity and an absolute feeling of long sought after peace.

As someone who has experienced mental illness, I wanted to open outlets for struggling students. My goal was to expand awareness and to establish a line of communication with students in need of emotional counseling. I took the time to engage with several students and parents during Friday Night Live chapter town meetings as well as produced a short anti-bullying film to proliferate awareness in my high school. Shame shouldn’t correspond with asking for help and I proudly advocate to end the stigma. I am adamant about reaching out to kids, letting them know that they are not alone, that their sense of brokenness is not permanent.

Help start the conversation about mental health by telling a story of how you or a loved one has been affected by mental health, whether positive or negative, and how it has affected your life. My heart was beating in my chest, I could feel my legs shaking below me. Sweat was beginning to run down my face, but I hardly noticed. All I could focus on were the thoughts that were racing through my head. Suddenly, the person in front of me moved out of the way, and I stepped forward. Trembling, I looked up to see a man staring at me. I gulped, then recited the order I had been rehearsing for the last 5 minutes. The McDonald’s employee lazily wrote down my order, took my money and handed me a receipt. I stepped out of the line and made my way to a booth, relief pouring over me. It sounds ridiculous-how could someone struggle with something as simple as placing an order at McDonald’s? But that was just one of the many scenarios where my anxiety took control of me.

I have been shy ever since I was a preschooler. During any kinds of performances or skits, I would often raise my shirt up to hide my face or else duck behind a taller kid in the hopes that no one would notice me. But preschool me could not possibly have known that this shyness was the tip of a much bigger and more serious iceberg. Around the beginning of high school, things started to really hit me. High school is usually a time for teens to figure out who they want to be and to form new, meaningful relationships. But that is certainly not what it felt like to me. Due to my anxiety, I was cut off from any relationships at school. I had no friends. Some people might be tempted to laugh at the notion that a high school boy could not make friends, but there was absolutely nothing funny about it. Lacking the emotional connection that friends provide leads to dark and lonely places.

I made my way through high school as best as I could, managing to keep my grades up but still feeling lonely and incredibly unhappy. By junior year I knew that I should reach out to someone, anyone, for help. There were mental health assemblies at school where the teachers made it quite clear that struggling with mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. They encouraged students to reach out to the counseling department if they needed someone to talk to. They were right of course, but at the time I brushed them off. I was worried that if I confessed to anyone how I was feeling they would look at me differently, perhaps as if I was weak or attention-seeking. Again, this was not the case. No one who struggles with mental health is weak. Nevertheless, admitting that you are struggling is an extremely daunting task-but is the first step to improvement.

Once I realized this, I made it my goal to confess to my parents how I was feeling so that I could get the necessary help. Should be easy, right? All I had to do was have a quick conversation and I’d be on my way. Any time I was alone with my mom or dad I knew it was an opportune moment to reach out to them. But I was too scared, too worried of what might happen if they thought I was just being silly. Would they ever look at me the same again? I remember one occasion in particular when my mom was leaving the house and she said, casually, “I’ll be back in a bit, I’m heading to a therapy session.” At that moment, the topic of mental health was just thrown so casually into the air that I was amazed. How could someone possibly be so open about their own mental health? It was absurd. But this openness sparked something within me.

At that point I knew that I could delay the inevitable conversation no longer. There were no more excuses I could make. I approached my mom one evening and steeled myself to ask the unthinkable-to ask for help. I nervously stammered, “Would it be possible to, like, get a therapist or something-maybe?” I braced myself for the answer, feeling more anxious than I had ever been in my life. She did not downplay my concerns. She agreed and immediately, with my dad, began taking steps to help me, setting me up with a therapist and scheduling appointments to make sure

I received the best support possible. This started a streak of self-improvement that led to me being more physically and mentally healthy than I had ever been before. There is no doubt that I still struggle with it even today, but seeking help and talking about my mental health rather than ignoring it and shoving it away has changed me. Sure, I might still be anxious when I place my order at McDonald’s-but I do it knowing that I am safe and secure, and that the worst possible thing that could happen is me fumbling over my order.

I wish everyone could get the help that I got, that every person had a family as loving and supportive as mine. But that is not the case. Some people may go their entire lives pretending they don’t have mental health struggles out of shame or guilt. When we start realizing that there is no shame at all, we can take the steps to improve. We are not weak because of anxiety, depression, or anything else-but we are strong if we can conquer them.

Have you ever taken steps towards reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues? If so, how? Please share your experience.

Reducing the stigma around mental health is important. No one should have to hide their mental illness or parts of who they are. We must acknowledge that not everyone has the privilege of privacy regarding their mental health. Not my friends with neat little rows of scars lining the inside of their forearms, not the unhoused woman arguing with someone only she can see, and not me with my compulsive need to pick at my skin or earrings until I bleed.

We should destigmatize the anxiety, depression, and pain that we carry within and demystify the manifestations of mental illness that we can see but often choose to look away from. Visible mental illness often prompts discomfort, disparaging comments, or over-intimate questions. These reactions indicate that there is significant work to be done specifically to raise awareness about and normalize the symptoms of mental illness that are harder to keep private.

In middle school, students would crack jokes about hurting themselves, having split personality disorder, or being “sooo OCD.” Some would go so far as to use derogatory language or slurs directed at people with mental illness. While I wouldn’t take part in those jokes, I didn’t say anything to stop them either. No one chimed in to say “I have a friend who…” or “actually, my cousin…” On some level, I think we all knew the response we would get: an awkward pause, broken eye contact, or maybe an uncomfortable laugh. Visible mental illnesses were a topic everyone joked about but didn’t care to really talk about.

I’m grateful for the cultural progress I’ve seen. I have conversations with my peers that I couldn’t imagine having five years ago. I talk about therapy with my friends and instead of looking at me like I’m crazy, they share their experiences with mental health or counseling. These conversations are the product of invaluable work simultaneously undertaken by hundreds of thousands of people who opened discussions about mental health in their households, schools, and online communities.

I’m immensely thankful for the work accomplished thus far and the freedoms it affords me and my loved ones. But there is always more work to be done, and more progress to be made. Even within my liberal, high-performing, college-town community some people still stigmatize and avoid discussing mental health concerns that feel scary or messy.

Many adults still present addiction as a catastrophic personal failure rather than a manifestation of mental illness. Children are told to avoid “those people” who talk to themselves. Students with disabilities are still patronized by teachers and other students at school. These are some of the harmful prejudices I’m passionate about eliminating both within myself and in my community.

It would be dishonest to say that I’m free of prejudice. Even as someone with mental illness, I will never fully understand someone else’s experiences. Furthermore, having mental illness in no way insulates you from the stereotyping prevalent and perpetuated within our society. Becoming aware of my own biases encouraged me to take steps to reduce them and help others identify and address their biases.

I began by educating myself about psychology and mental health. There are so many wonderful websites, books, and podcasts that discuss mental illness, mental wellness, and neurodivergent processes. Many schools today offer psychology electives that increase understanding of how the brain works. Starting with education helped me build a foundation from which to engage in conversations about mental health, listen presently, ask relevant questions, and share my story.

I value sharing stories and conversations with a wider audience. The summer between my junior and senior year I had the opportunity to discuss mental health and neurodivergent thinking on a podcast called Brainsick, which covers the lives of famous figures who lived with mental illness and media that addresses mental health. When people share their struggles and their triumphs, it makes mental illness more approachable and more human.

Additionally, for the past three years I had the pleasure of participating in Youth

Leadership Davis (YLD). YLD is a program that prepares high school students to work in the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter (IRWS) and discuss topics including structural inequality, mental health, and community leadership. Many of the guests who stay at the IRWS have some form of mental illness with varying degrees of severity. The opportunity to interact with the guests by dining with them, playing board games, and creating music humanized severe mental illnesses and homelessness in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Forming relationships with guests at the IRWS furthered my passion for destigmatizing mental illness and encouraged me to become Mental Health First Aid certified.

Similarly, volunteering with Team Davis, our local chapter of the Special Olympics, helped me gain perspective through relationships. My role was to help children and adults with developmental disabilities learn to swim. Over the course of multiple summers, I got to know different people with unique talents and abilities. Getting to know swimmers’ strengths, interests, and senses of humor was integral to furthering my understanding of disability and helped me to identify, interrogate, and reduce my existing prejudices.

Managing mental illness and a learning disability can be challenging, but it has taught me the value of persistence and driven me to pursue unique opportunities for personal growth, education, and volunteerism within my community. Equipped with knowledge and empowered by relationships, I feel confident in my ability to initiate and facilitate discussions about mental illness. Now I stand up to and actively work to educate people who perpetuate harmful stereotypes of mental illness. Through education, honest discussion, and human connection, it is possible for anyone to make a positive impact and reduce the stigma around mental health.

Do you plan to major in or seek a career in a subject related to the mental health field? If so, please share your plan, goals, and reasoning.

 Health and well-being have been a passion of mine for several years now, and have grown exponentially as I’ve studied them in depth more recently and dreamt about how I can help others improve their overall health once I graduate. I’ve always been fascinated by the strong connection between physical and mental health, and how markedly they affect each other.

I believe health is the root the rest of life stems from. The state of one’s health and wellbeing determines the quality of their life, and what they derive from it. To fully experience all life offers, good psychological health is a necessity. However, this goes much deeper than just caring for mental health.

Mental health and physical health are interdependent. Although the mind and body are open distinguished as separate, they greatly rely on each other. Caring for our physical health can greatly improve mental health, as good mental health positively affects physical health. When both sides of health are in balance, it creates a cycle, which leads the way to optimal holistic health.

This has become especially evident to me through my observations of unusual events in my life.

After the deadly Camp Fire, which burned our neighboring town of Paradise, California, our entire community faced a long, hard recovery process. My grandparents were forced to evacuate and stayed with us, while several of my friends’ homes were turned to ash. We all had to adapt to completely new conditions. I watched how this huge loss created such severe stress and anxiety in those around me. Even for my family, whose home was spared, we struggled to cope as we helped our friends adjust after losing everything. When added to poor air quality and no sunlight from the ash-filled sky, forcing our community to stay indoors, everyone’s health took a toll. I experienced first-hand how trauma created a sharp decline in mental health, which also diminished physical health and caused an even greater struggle as we all recovered.

Shortly after this, the Covid-19 pandemic again turned the world completely upside down. This unprecedented obstacle caused so many to completely lose motivation, even myself, for a while. To overcome, I kept myself very active. I started consistently running, exercising, and hiking. I found any way I could safely get outside my house where I felt stuck, and encouraged others to do the same. Maintaining my physical health greatly improved my mental health, which motivated me to work toward a better future, although it appeared blurry and uncertain at the time. I experienced how dangerously poor mental health and lack of motivation affects people, and how staying physically active counteracts this. Personally, caring for myself motivated me to continue learning, maintain my grades, stay enrolled in difficult classes, and keep up with my activities despite sudden changes and challenges. Tackling obstacles also made me feel more strong and confident and greatly improved my self-esteem as I realized how much I was capable of.

I first discovered the astonishing impact of outdoor adventure on mental and physical health through all the adventures I’ve embarked on over the years, such as backpacking. I’ve always felt most alive when I’m in nature. I feel strongest when I challenge myself and overcome obstacles and weaknesses. As my passion has grown, I’ve learned how time spent outside greatly increases overall health. I believe nature is essential for optimal physical and mental health, and that nurturing these offers life to the fullest.

I’ve learned a lot from studying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, on which most of my thoughts on targeting mental health are based. Maslow taught that to reach our full health potential, which he calls self-actualization, we first must meet our basic needs and psychological needs. When people first properly care for their physical health, as well as their relationships and providing for themselves, they have the ability to grow and flourish in their goals and dreams.

Achieving this state of psychological well-being is not simple, or easy by any means. The only way to become stronger mentally is through overcoming challenges and obstacles. At an adventure camp, I was taught that to reach a state of thriving and flourishing, or the “growth zone”, one must first endure the “groan zone”. This zone is created by uncomfortable, challenging situations, but once one struggles through, they will realize what they are capable of, which increases confidence and allows them to thrive. This concept has allowed me to see obstacles positively, since they have helped me grow, and I desire to use this as I help others overcome mental challenges.

In college, I plan to major in kinesiology to better understand the physical health side and the crucial role of exercise. I also want to minor in psychology to gain more knowledge about the mental health side. From there, I plan to earn my masters in Marriage and Family

Therapy, with a long-term goal of using adventure based therapy to help others care for their mental and physical health simultaneously. Most of all, I want to showcase my love of outdoor adventure and nature, and use time spent in the outdoors as a form of therapy for others. My dream is to build a holistic health-centered career using preventative and therapeutic ways to help people recognize their full health, and ultimately life, potential.

Help start the conversation about mental health by telling a story of how you or a loved one has been affected by mental health, whether positive or negative, and how it has affected your life. Some examples can include experiencing or overcoming a mental health issue, improving one’s own mental health, etc.

If you asked me four years ago what I wanted to achieve in high school, I would have said “straight A’s and a great SAT score,” not “55% on my first chemistry test.” As the youngest in the family, I always idolized my sisters, who were my perception of the ideal daughter. When teachers accidentally called me my sisters’ names or recognized my last name, I felt proud. Growing up, I watched them succeed in almost everything they did and figured this was the default. With the mindset that rigorous competitions and classes simply required my attendance, I began expecting results without working for them. As I sat in chemistry with a page full of red ink glaring up at me, I was melodramatic. I spent my time dwelling on what I was lacking instead of taking action.

I perpetually struggled to understand my identity. Comparing myself to my sisters, I felt that I had not achieved what I was “supposed to.” I saw that I needed greater structure and a different focus in my routines. In my frustration, I turned to cello and slowly realized that the lessons I learned in music were applicable to other aspects of my life. I solidified the structure of my studying similarly to my practicing for statewide music competitions. When practicing cello, I always set smaller goals for each session ranging from mastering the technical aspects of a passage or improving musicality. I translated this to my studies by setting similar objectives and established discipline in achieving the specific goals I had set. As principal cellist and orchestra president, I created detailed orchestra agendas and notes. I used this personal system of note-taking to also benefit my study habits. Directing fundraisers and collaborating with fellow musicians allowed me to view different perspectives, eventually revealing to me that my mindset needed a change.

I worked to develop more confidence as a returning leader. I guided and mentored other musicians. I built close relationships with them, and they gave me the nickname “Cello Mom.” When our orchestra travelled, I bonded with younger musicians over delicious Japanese street food and frigid Santa Cruz weather. When we were back home, the same musicians started reaching out to me for advice. When two sisters joined our orchestra from Korea and had trouble fitting in, I reached out to them and even though we communicated at first with head nods and yes or no questions, they are now among my closest friends. Once the younger stand partner who never knew when to start playing, I now find myself on the other side, supporting those beside me.

By the end of junior year, I had led over ten different orchestras locally and across the state, been elected president of my high school orchestra for two consecutive years, and gained self-reliance as I influenced others while balancing my own responsibilities. I found that I love to lead, make people laugh, and build relationships. Cello is more than an extracurricular commitment for me. It will always remind me that I did things differently, but just as well as my sisters. It helped me solidify the studying methods that work best for me and taught me how to mentor and connect with others. Implementing these lessons, I did well in both my chemistry class and on the AP exam. But beyond this, I learned the structure and diligence that improved not only my academics but also other parts of my life.

Challenges in high school pushed me to learn more about myself. I learned how to focus on the process of my goals and not just the results, and adjusted my perspective. Whether it be participating in my university orchestra or reviewing for the next chemistry exam, I know that I can continue to develop these skills I have gained and apply them in college.

I plan to pursue a degree in neuroscience. I have always loved exploring various subjects at once, and the unique, interdisciplinary learning opportunities of this major will allow me to integrate my interests in brain science and music. Playing music has shaped me as an individual, highlighting my strengths and the methods that work best for me in all aspects of my life. Throughout high school, I performed at memory care facilities and educated others about the neuroscience of music. I have always been drawn to the science behind music therapy and am intrigued by the benefits of music on cognitive development and mental health issues.

I am captivated by music, specifically its ability to relieve stress and improve both emotional and physical well-being. Before high school, it had never occurred to me that music could be so much more than scrambled black dots on a page. My first psychology class peaked my interest in neuroscience. Analyzing different aspects of the mind and behavior, I was able to incorporate music into my knowledge of mental health issues. I am currently working with a group of musicians around the world in raising awareness for the positive impacts of music on mental health. Studying neuroscience will allow me to understand the minuscule processes behind this amazing phenomenon. With this knowledge, I will continue spreading the benefits of music for as long as I can.


Testimonials

"Applying for this scholarship went very smoothly for me. The website detailed out exactly what was required and the prompt question gave me lots to respond to in my essay. I really enjoyed telling my story and experience with it."


"The topic of mental health, especially among high school students, hasn’t been discussed enough, so for a program to be dedicated to that cause meant a lot to me. In my own experience, as well as many others, mental health struggles often begin in high school, so the normalization of it (as well as therapy, medication, and the like) can directly help students afraid to ask for help just as I was."


"I am incredibly grateful for the Carlos Vieira Foundation and the impact that they have made not only in Central California, but also in our world. Especially during times like these, taking care of your mental health is more important than ever. The stigma surrounding mental health stifles students and limits our ability to find resources and learn about these issues. It all starts with a conversation, and this foundation is making them happen. The transition from high school to college is daunting, and the Race to End the Stigma Scholarship will help me immensely. Thank you Carlos Vieira Foundation!"


"This scholarship program is so wonderful because it highlights the great mental health and advocacy work students do in their local communities. It helps our dreams of education become a reality! It’s so important to start the conversation about mental health because us young people often get so caught up in life, that we forget to take care of ourselves. We must always extend the same grace and empathy to ourselves that we would give to others."


"Mental health can be a struggle, particularly when big changes are coming in the near future.  The "Race to End the Stigma" scholarship program is great for getting people's stories of mental health struggles out so that everyone can feel less alone when they face their own struggles."


"The Carlos Vieira Foundation Race to End the Stigma Scholarship Program not only gives to students who want to go into higher education but helps raise awareness about the importance of student's mental health. By creating more conversation with younger generations now, the Carlos Vieira Foundation is easing the stigma around mental health and empowering those who deal with mental health issues."


"I think that starting the conversation about mental health is important for high school seniors because there is so little awareness and respect towards this topic. Mental health is often something that is joked about, which in its own way can serve a purpose, but there comes a point where that’s no longer enough. Joking serves no purpose when high schoolers across the world struggle to get out of bed every day, struggle to eat, to socialize, to do their work. Raising awareness can provide more students with the tools and understanding to confront and overcome bad mental health, along with normalizing the subject so that students don’t have to struggle silently through something that too many people have in common. This scholarship program is a useful platform to cultivate awareness and respect so that it it isn’t something that is looked down upon and shamed."


"Thank you so much for selecting me to receive this scholarship. Spreading awareness about mental health in my community has been one of my biggest motivators in sharing my own experiences with gaining mental fitness. This scholarship is an amazing opportunity to share and empathize with the silent struggles of those around us. You may never know what someone is going through behind their presentation, so be kind and give grace. Burnout is real, so it is also extremely important to check in with yourself if you are feeling overwhelmed. As I continue into higher education and into the rest of my life, I will keep striving towards ending the stigma that is placed upon mental illness and wellness."