For young people, mental health has been a constant focus of attention, not only in a high school setting, but also in lower levels of education, including elementary school students. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 70% of teens see anxiety and depression as a major problem among their peers. For Madeleine Salem, this awareness triggered action.
Now a sophomore at Stanford University, Salem created The Purple Hydrangea Project, a nonprofit focused on improving mental health support and resources, in high school.
“The changes I wanted to make were a lot more local, a lot more focused on a certain demographic, they’re young children,” she said. “Our main goal is to fight to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and ultimately foster an environment of understanding where everyone can feel safe asking for help without fear of being judged, ignored. or rejected. ”
The organization organizes projects within the community for elementary school students to spread more importance and awareness about mental health.
Over the summer, the team visited elementary school districts and campaigned for more mental health programs and projects. In one school district, they formed a partnership with the district health director and behavioral counselors, where the team were invited to present behavioral health classes in local elementary schools.
Not only has the scope of their projects expanded, but the team has also grown significantly throughout their year and a half of operation. Although they started with a team of 10 to 11 high school students, they grew to 70 members. The organization Instagram pages also has 1.6K subscribers.
“We also have chapters being created across the country; we currently have two running in Southern California, ”Salem said. “These chapters started out in high schools and operate under the parent organization of The Purple Hydrangea Project, but they are carrying out mental health projects even more localized in their own communities.”
During the pandemic, Salem also fostered a partnership with Simply neuroscience, a non-profit organization that mobilizes conferences and projects to increase student interest in neuroscience and psychology.
“We spoke at their Simply Neuroscience conference this summer and we just continue to develop other projects that fall within our mission,” she said. “I feel like people want to help, but they just don’t know. So we’re just trying to create courses that can help people fill those gaps, so that they can then help their loved ones when they are going through mental health crises. “
However, as The Purple Hydrangea project has grown, Salem says that one of the most significant projects she started was when the organization was first established.
One of the team members had completed an internship in a classroom with mentally disabled children and shared his experience with the rest of the team. The members then decided to raise money from donations to organize a toy drive for this class.
“These kids sometimes grow up in difficult families where they can’t really get what they want. It’s like a tough situation to go through, so being able to give them something and see the look on their faces at the reception was really, really rewarding to see, ”said Salem.
In addition to working with the elementary level, the team also hosted presentations at colleges, one of them being California State University, Los Angeles.
“We pretty much did a presentation on self-care, self-management, and strategies on how to put certain coping mechanisms in place,” she said. “It was really cool to see people interacting, sharing their own experiences, hearing the discussions that arose and people learning from each other about what they can do to take better care of themselves.”
The organization has also partnered with a publishing house to produce a book destigmatizing mental health in various communities. Speaking to the future, Salem says she hopes to advance the organization’s mission while continuing to diversify the depth of projects.
“Creating a sense of belonging to the community is a priority for us. I want to continue to share people’s mental health journeys to promote empathy and a better understanding of these issues, ”said Salem.