Mental health is more than just being happy | Mental Health Perspectives

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1 of 2 Seika Brown is a 20-year-old researcher and advocate for mental health from Issaquah. In fall 2020, Brown began attending Cornell University and founded a global research initiative aiming to discover how mental health is defined across cultures and backgrounds. Brown works alongside major organizations and universities like citiesRISE, UNICEF, The Karolinska Institute and Johns Hopkins University. (Courtesy of Seika Brown)
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2 of 2 Seika Brown, researcher and advocate for mental health from Issaquah, delivers a speech to stakeholders about the need for mental health funding at the World Mental Health Day Conference at the University of Washington in 2019. (Courtesy of Seika Brown)
The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on covering mental and behavioral health issues. It is funded by Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for children and families. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over work produced by this team.

Mental health is not just about always trying to have positive emotions; it’s about knowing how to handle the hard ones.

I was 8 years old when my older brother attempted suicide. It was like crossing a barrier where childhood ignorance was swiped away and replaced by the deeper aspects of life: death, money, insecurity, drugs and the prospect of loss.

Nothing was more terrifying than not understanding what was going on. Not having the vocabulary or words to express what I thought or felt about the situation was suffocating. It was as if I was screaming out, but no words came from my mouth, and no one could hear me because I did not know how to call out.

This experience was the start of what inspired me to learn more about mental health. In the years since, I’ve realized mental health care, like suicide prevention efforts, shouldn’t start after a crisis has occurred. We don’t prepare for a disaster after it happens. And we shouldn’t just talk about suicide or depression and illness without also teaching the basics of mental health. 

Good mental health means allowing one’s self to experience the highs and lows in life while understanding there is yet more to come.

The Seattle Times Mental Health Project features contributed essays from members of our community as part of our Mental Health Perspectives guest column. We invite individuals with personal stories related to mental health to share their experiences that reflect broader issues and concerns in the field. If you would like to inquire about submitting a column, please email mentalhealth@seattletimes.com.

Even in my own family, I saw how important it was to build shared language around mental health and keep conversations going. These conversations were challenging because of my parents’ cultural differences. My mother was born and raised in Japan, and my father was born in England to a military family. Neither of them discussed mental health openly in their families. Additionally, members of my family have struggled with substance abuse, which has created a long-term impact on our interactions.

Being able to recognize the differences in conversation and learning to better communicate allowed me to extend grace to my family as we moved forward.

Seven years after my brother’s suicide attempt, I created my first nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention, mental health awareness and policy change. 

The organization consisted of six other members, each of whom were good friends from Issaquah High School. We called our team “ArchNova” a combination of Latin and Greek roots meaning “New Beginnings.” Our goal was to bring a new beginning to how people talk about mental health.

Between 2017 and 2020, my team and I worked with lawmakers in Olympia on two bills. The one that passed focused on suicide prevention for students. Through HB 1221, Washington established school safety centers that help assess physical, emotional and mental stressors for students, teachers and staff.

After three years of co-running “ArchNova,” I came across the concept of B4Stage4 (Before Stage Four) from Mental Health America. It’s an awareness campaign that addresses mental health before a suicide occurs. While suicide may not always be 100% preventable, there are ways to teach people how to handle their emotions.

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Today, I see mental health as a way in which we interact with our lives. It’s about mindset and well-being. We’re human, and the circumstances life brings won’t always be ideal. We aren’t meant to be perfect. Struggle is inevitable.

I now run an independent global research initiative that aims to discover how mental health is defined across different cultures and backgrounds. Throughout my research, I have talked to people from more than 10 countries. From Malaysia, Nigeria, North Cyprus, and across the United States, I’ve found that people aren’t simply searching for happiness; but rather seeking how to love and support the people around them, and how to find love and support themselves.

Learning to approach mental health as a core part of well-being can help us support the people we love. By learning to take care of our own mental health, we can endure the trials of life and support our loved ones who may be struggling.

Our illnesses and problems with mental health are not things to be ashamed of when we as a society can finally learn to normalize and prioritize these struggles as a part of every day life.

Seika Brown is a 20-year-old researcher and advocate for mental health from Issaquah. She attends Cornell University and founded a global research initiative aiming to discover how mental health is defined across cultures and backgrounds.

Seika Brown: