Anjali Smith: "We're Not Afraid to Change the Status Quo"
Anjali Smith is a mental health advocate. As a woman of color, she has seen the social stigma that is present around mental health. She founded Project Empower, an organization that works to make mental health resources accessible to all communities and individuals, no matter their income, to break the stigma around getting help with mental health and prompt discussion around these issues.
Why are you passionate about mental health?
I am passionate about mental health because it’s a vital part of our life and it affects every aspect of it. Everyone has mental health. However, it’s often overlooked in many communities because of a mixture of societal stigma, a lack of discussion about it, and the inaccessibility of resources and healthcare services for it. As a woman of color, specifically Indo-fijian, I can often see the stigma surrounding mental health in my own community. It can be a huge barrier for people wanting to reach out for help and support. Stigma comes in many forms, such as overlooking or ridiculing mental health issues or people’s request for help. It can sound like “Brown people don’t get depressed” or “Why are you depressed? Are you not grateful for what you have?”. These are really harmful statements, that make people who are struggling feel alienated and even guilty. My experiences and my identity have shaped my mental health advocacy, and it’s what has really gotten me to become a passionate mental health advocate.
How is Project Empower’s mission unique?
Project Empower’s mission is unique because we recognize the need for a combination of sharing mental health resources and supporting wellness related reform in different communities. We strive for mental wellness accessibility through three pivotal pillars:
1. Collecting and centralizing resources about various aspects of wellness by mental health advocates from all over the world.
2. Increasing the discussion about mental health and breaking the stigma by sharing stories and guidance on our social media platform.
3. Impacting communities with wellness related reform by providing change-makers specialized resources and support for their initiatives.
What inspires you to do what you do with Project Empower?
There is a real need for more discussion and resources about mental wellness for many communities. Everyone should be able to speak openly about their mental health, without the fear of being judged or alienated for it. Everyone should be able to get the help and support that they deserve. It breaks my heart to know that people can be struggling with their mental health, and when they open up to someone about it, they’re ridiculed for it or made to feel guilty about it. That rarely happens to someone who is experiencing a “physical” ailment. No one tells someone who has had an asthma attack or someone who has been diagnosed with diabetes, that “It’s all in your head” or “Just try being more positive”. The awareness of the stigma surrounding mental health and the lack of discussion about mental health in many communities, is what really motivated me to start Project Empower.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of starting Project Empower?
After starting Project Empower, I’ve entered into a really welcoming and supportive online community. The Project Empower team members are all passionate mental health advocates who are doing so many amazing things and I’m so grateful to have gotten in touch with them. Receiving DMs from mental health advocates and making new connections with people who have the same passion for mental health as me, has been a really rewarding experience as well. Having such a supportive community and knowing our work is contributing to the cause for mental wellness accessibility also encourages me to continue my work with Project Empower.
What advice do you have for other changemakers who may be doubted because of their age?
For other changemakers who may be doubted because of their age, remember that when we have an issue we’re passionate about, the only person that can truly stop our power is ourselves. I’ve noticed that a lot of the time, our ideas are often met with the response “Okay but start small, don’t get too ahead of yourself”. But I want to challenge that. Sure, it’s important to have steady goals and to realize growth isn’t linear, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. But never take that as advice to water down your idea. My advice for changemakers is to keep your ideas as big you want and work towards them slowly, but never throw your idea away because it sounds “impossible” or it’s “too ahead of yourself”. I also definitely recommend using social media as a tool to connect with other activists and to spread your message. Social media is definitely something that our generation tends to get criticized about by older generations, but it can be a powerful tool in spreading awareness about issues we’re passionate about and mobilizing our generation to enact change.
What power do youth hold in our world today?
Youth hold an incredible amount of power in our world. We’re breaking toxic intergenerational cycles, we’re speaking out about issues we’re passionate about, we’re organizing rallies and protests, we’re challenging complacent politicians, we’re impacting others, and we’re not afraid to change the status quo. As youth, we have our own unique perspectives on the events that occur in our world. It not only shapes our advocacy and makes us a valuable part of activism, it gives us the power to make a difference.