The Trek Episode 3 on Mental Health: Civics Unplugged discusses the importance of mental health and why it has become so prominent among Gen Z – in collaboration with Humanity 2.0

Contributed by: Show Editorial Team

Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Noor Myran, Founding Fellow of the 2020 CU Fellowship, Zoe Jenkins, Steering Committee Chair at Civics 2030, Elena Ashburn, Host of “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast, and Chabu Kapumba, Senior Fellow at Civics Unplugged discuss mental health on this week’s episode of The Trek


  • Civics Unplugged hosts Trek Session with Gen Z community on the importance of mental health 
  • Prominent Gen Z figures discuss why mental health has become such a big topic and the power of social media
  • Future leaders of America discuss how to address mental health problems and the stigmas that still revolve around it



Brought to you by: Humanity 2.0 – a Non-Profit (Non-Government Organization) focused on identifying and removing the most significant impediments to human flourishing through technology and thought-leadership in collaboration with the Holy See (Vatican).

Special consideration; to CommPro Worldwide for their PR and media support

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS: Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Noor Myran, Founding Fellow of the 2020 CU Fellowship, Zoe Jenkins, Steering Committee Chair at Civics 2030, Elena Ashburn, Host of “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast, and Chabu Kapumba, Senior Fellow at Civics Unplugged

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:03:

Hello, everyone. And welcome back to group think. For those of you who are new to group think or want a refresher, group think is a weekly jam session with builders of the CU community, where we start with a topic and then talk about anything that feels meaningful and it’s all fueled by open questions. So I’m Madison, I’m a high school senior from Verdigris Oklahoma. Everyone else went introduced themselves. 

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:00:39

Sure. I can go. My name is Zoe Jenkins. I am also a high school senior, but I am from Lexington, Kentucky. 

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:00:46

I’m Elena Ashburn. I am a high school junior from Southern Florida.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:54:

And I am Chabu Kapumba and I am a freshman in college at UFT in Toronto

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:01:03:

And I’m Gary. I’m one of the CU staff members and I live in New York city. All right, Madison, what is the starting question or anyone? What’s the starting question related to mental health. It’s a very meaningful topic. Any question we can start off with and we don’t have to stick to just that question, Elena, for example. It just a launching point.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:01:30:

What about why is there a mental health crisis right now in America?

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:01:56:

I feel like, and this sounds really like sad and pessimistic, but I feel like there’s kind of always been a mental health crisis in America. It’s just finally getting talked about, I feel like the whole idea of mental illness and mental health. It’s something that’s always been so taboo and so stigmatized. And now we’re finally getting to a point in our history where we feel more open about talking about it and we feel more open about going to therapists. I have family members who would like talk about their childhood and I’d be like, wow, that sounds like you should probably see a therapist. And they’re like, no, that’s for sissies. I feel like now we’re finally starting to realize like no getting proper mental health treatment and getting the help that you need is not for sissies. It is for you and for you to better yourself and for you to feel better. And for you to have some of that weight lifted off of you. So I feel like there’s definitely always been problems with mental health in our country. I just feel like now, especially, we’re understanding that it’s there.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:03:02:

Well said Elena. Madison, can we add a question, and we don’t have to skip this question. I just want to pin this. Why is the stigma [around mental health] being lifted?

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:03:23:

I guess I’ll add onto what Elena was saying. And I hate to blame the internet, but I think the internet is part of it of just that you can see everything that’s going on in the world. And that includes like seeing everything that your friends are doing, except, you know, on social media, that’s obviously very filtered. But I think that because like from a young age, especially for this generation, we were so closely aware of all the bad things going on in the world at one time that it just suddenly feels like everything is bad. Because that’s what we talk about. We don’t talk a lot about good news. And so, I think that that just adds pressure on whatever else you were already experiencing in your life, because growing up in adolescence is hard enough as it is, but then the compounding pressure of like, you’re just kind of you’re like you’re small in this world and like minuscule, cause they’re all these bigger things happening. I think just kind of adds on top of that.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:04:26:

And I would also say that it’s almost like a compounded effort of, I love how late I was talking about how intergenerational it all is. And so, when you have so many generations that are operating off of a compromised mental capacity, you kind of put that onto your kids. And so, this whole intergenerational trauma, or even just not knowing how to cope with things or have these discussions. I think that the crisis is exactly made even worse by the fact that our parents don’t know how to deal with it because they also have things of their own that are probably unresolved and not dealt with. 

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:05:07:

When you are raised in an environment that doesn’t know how to deal with mental health issues, you’re not going to be able to learn how to deal with those. You’re not going to be able to get those coping mechanisms that you need. I totally agree with that Chabu.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:05:30:

But I also feel like the internet, especially social media has made it easier too. I guess it’s this kind of going on to the next question for why the stigma stigmas being lifted? Just because I know that there are a lot of platforms now that allow, you know, not just teens, but everyone to express their feelings more like obviously you guys know being a teen, like spam accounts are really good for people ranting. And there’s just like more outlets now for people to openly talk about how they’re feeling and their emotions and just mental health in general. So I would say that while the internet social media has exacerbated mental health, it also has given a platform for it to be talked about more.

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:06:24:

And I want to like touch, I guess, on both questions at the same time. I guess what makes the mental health crisis unique to America and not just everywhere in the world, but I think part of it is just a culture. And this is something that I was exposed to, like in Spanish class where we had professors from Spain, they talk about how like, you know, kids live with their parents forever. And like you tell your family everything. And like, that’s like very much of a cultural thing and a lot of other places in the world, but that’s not something we have here. Like it’s very much your mental health issues, your life issues, are not always something you talk about with your parents or the people in your house. So, I think in that way, the internet has helped because while we haven’t necessarily moved away from that kind of like familial culture in the United States, the internet means that like I could text Elena when I’m having an issue and like that’s so readily available to people to reach out to others when they need it.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:07:25:

So I mentioned this like earlier in the day I think when I was talking to Gary, but do you guys remember that like era of the internet where there’d be like those, like almost like neon post-it note, like posts and it’d be like relatable or things that you didn’t know. And like, I remember seeing those on Pinterest and like sixth grade and just losing my mind because, Oh my God, this is a thing that like other people do. And so I think that that like phenomenon applies here in the sense that it was a collective experience, that we were all kind of having behind closed doors. And then when we realized it was a commonality, it was almost like there was this big push to have the conversation more openly. And I think that’s like really interesting to see.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:08:12:

I definitely agree with that. I think that just as much as the internet has hurt mental health, it’s also helped it. It’s kind of like the opportunity cost of that. It depends on the person. But I think that sort of playing off what you were saying, I saw a tweet where it was like boomers and gen X-ers are kind of like, Oh, she goes, she goes to therapy, but Gen Z is like, “yeah, I go to therapy. What about it?” Like, my therapist told me this great thing other day. Like I tell my therapist everything there. I just feel like we’re, we’ve grown up like very open about this kind of stuff. Maybe it’s because of the internet and seeing like, people like celebrities coming out and saying, “Hey, I have health issues. And it’s okay if you do too,” because this is something that we all go through. And I feel like maybe that’s why gen Z in particular is so open about it. Like the fact that it’s out there on the internet and it’s just like, sort of, we have those role models. We have all of these different people from high places in society are coming out and saying, “Hey, yeah, I suffer from bipolar or depression or anxiety.” 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:09:37:

I think I want to pose a question. I know that the like stigma is being lifted, but what are some things about mental health that still go undiscussed or are really hard to confront publicly?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:10:02:

Okay. I would say something that’s kind of tricky to talk about is when mental health, like, it’s good that it’s being talked about a lot. But when people kind of started doing it as like a trend, like I know a lot of people for instance, are like, I have OCD and it’s just the meaning of OCD is completely changed because it’s become, because it’s been talked about so much that people don’t even understand what it means to truly have OCD. To have it really, really impact your life in a negative way. They just think that it means to be cleanliness and to be organized. So that I would say that there’s also, you know, a downside to just lifting the stigma in a way. 

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:10:53

I think I have a particularly terrible example from middle school where there was this trend where for every different mental illness you had, there was a different color of the rainbow you’re supposed to put on your arm. And then girls in my class are competing, like, “Oh yeah, I have anxiety and bipolar and depression.” And like, you’re like, like listing all these things. And I’m like, no, you don’t like, let’s not romanticize having like, you know, like mental illnesses that, you know, are, I mean, that, that those things damage people’s lives. Let’s not joke about it. But it was kind of kind of a weird, I guess, byproduct of lifting the stigma is now it’s almost like everybody wants to have one, which is really weird and not in the fact that I ever saw coming.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:11:44:

There’s also like a really important distinction that I saw on Twitter that was like, “Oh, I have OCD. Or I have an eating disorder.” or whatever. But in reality, they’re the way you could phrase that, is that you may have disordered eating. So, you have a habit that’s really unhealthy that has come out with an eating disorder, but you don’t quite have a full-blown eating disorder. And I think that’s a really important distinction to make because people who do have that condition, need to be able to explain what’s going on, because then it kind of ruins or it doesn’t quite convey just how much of an impact it has on people’s lives.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:12:25:

Yeah. I definitely agree with that. I remember like in middle school, something that a lot of people would say, and I feel like the way that they would say this is in a negative connotation, but I feel like it’s also a good example to put here. It’s like big D depression versus little D depression, like little D is like, it’s not a proper noun versus big D depression is like the actual mental illness. But I feel like when it comes to stigma, I feel like this stigma honestly varies on the mental illness, which I feel like is crazy. For instance, I feel like there’s a lot of stigma around certain eating disorders. And there’s definitely a lot of stigma, especially around men with mental health illnesses. Just because we live in a society that values masculinity in that way. And I feel like it really depends on both the person and the illness that is had when it comes to stigma in that way, like we’re saying anxiety, depression, OCD, these are ones that we hear a lot because they’re being less stigmatized in that way, but also like romanticized. But then there are other illnesses that are just as valid and just as important to be talking about and to be de-stigmatizing that are just still really stigmatized. Because they’re just, I’m not even sure why, like they just still aren’t and no one’s talking about them.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:13:23:

Yeah. I think I heard a speech last year on the difference between just on the topic of a person first language. So, it’s not necessarily an anxious person. It’s a person with anxiety. And so, when you’re able to clearly define who it is, because I think we lose sense of like, I think because it’s so romanticized and because people make it out to, because it’s so romanticized people are really easy to kind of identify that in themselves, even if it’s not necessarily what the definition of the mental illness is. And so, I think person-first language kind of reminds you to not think of it as like, I just think it’s like a beneficial way to destigmatize the stigma.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:14:57:

This idea of like person first language is so important. Especially because to kind of fall back on the question while it’s being lifted, it’s still not being talked about openly. If you’re someone who has like a reoccurring, not reoccurring, but like a mental illness that like will like interrupt or disrupt your life often periodically. And then you kind of have to explain over and over again, you know, this thing is happening because of XYZ, even just in terms of your internal dialogue, how you communicate that to people, you also don’t want your entire narrative or who people think or see you as to be your mental illness, because that is debilitating in its own. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:15:45:

My name is Noor by the way I’m 16, I’m from Chicago. I think a huge part of that aspect, that taboo brought up is the fact that it can be hard to bring up mental illness to family members because a lot of it is like, Oh, you’re just stressed. Or like, this is normal or what they’re going through at work. So like yours can’t possibly be that bad. And so I think there’s the illness itself has a stigma and then talking about it with other people specifically like family members who are technically supposed to be like the closest to you. Like arguably that in and of itself has a stigma surrounding it. 

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:16:33:

Yeah. I definitely resonate with that one. And I’m sure many of us do. I feel like it’s there is a huge stigma around like talking to your parents and talking to your siblings about the like mental health issues and mental illnesses and like speaking from personal experience, like just like this debilitating fear of having to ask my parents, “Hey, can I start seeing a therapist?” Like that was really tough to get over that hill. And I feel like we need to start getting over that fear because especially for teenagers, like the only way that we can get therapy is either through our school or through our parents. Like there aren’t really many other third-party options. Unless we reach out to organizations with hotlines or with things like that. So like the two most accessible ways for us are through our school and through our parents. And in order to get that, that means we have to talk to those adults in our lives, whether it be our parents or whether it be our counselors about these things. And it’s tough. And I feel like that’s something that needs to be sort of less stigmatized as well. Like the idea of having to talk to your parents and having that open conversation about mental health.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:17:52:

I just wanted to like spin off of something Elena said, and just the idea that like the importance of ease in the process. So just because like, I know, Oh, I could talk to my parents and they’d send me to go see a therapist, but like, then it’d be really awkward every time I’d want to go. So, it’d be a really awkward conversation. Or if I’m going to go through my counselor, like every time it’s going to be a whole process with their questions and so on and so forth. Or even when it comes to like seeking out external resources, you have to go out and find those resources, validate if they’re actually going to do what you need them to do and go through the process. I feel like it’s a really awkward thing to validate saying like, things need to be easy in order for them to be effective, but I think that those roadblock blocks really add up and it keeps people from actually accessing the things that they need or that are available to them.

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:18:47:

And something I’ll add kind of loosely related to what we were talking about earlier. I think in terms of what we’re not talking about is that you can have mental health issues and need to see a therapist without having a diagnosis. Like you don’t have to have depression, have to have anxiety, or like have to have something to need to talk to somebody about what’s going on. And I know that that was something that I struggled with. And I was like, I think I want to see a therapist, but I was like, well, what do I have? And that was something, I was Googling, like, what do I have? And I was like, I don’t have to have anything. I can just need to talk to somebody about the things going on in my life. And so, I think that that’s something that we need to kind of normalize is that people can have mental health issues without having necessarily like a diagnosable mental health illness. And that that’s just as valid as well.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:19:28:

Yeah. The idea that mental health care and taking care of your mental health is not limited only to people with mental illnesses. It is for everyone, everyone should be taking care of their mental health in order to, you know, keep their wellbeing up to like the best standard that they can get it too. And I am 100% agreeing with what Zoe is saying. Like, absolutely, if you feel like you need to see a therapist, see a therapist, you don’t need a diagnosis. Sometimes it’s important just to have a person that you can trust who’s not going to tell anyone who is not going to judge you for what you say, and it’s going to be there to offer you tools to cope with your issues and to help you through whatever problems you’re facing.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:20:29:

Zoe, I think that it’s a really good point. I hadn’t even thought about it like that. And I know that there’s the same that people are kind of like advocating for you know, de-stigmatizing mental health or saying seeing a therapist should be as normalized as to the doctor. But I feel like in a way that kind of does push that idea that when you go to the doctor, right, you go because you think you’re sick or you have a diagnosis. So, I think that that’s interesting because I, it feels like that’s also implying that you have to have a diagnosis to go see a therapist

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:21:07:

I think that a really important metric for determining in our society, if we’ve lifted the stigma to a point where it’s actually impactful. One of those things would be is it on par with how we treat physical illnesses that like manifest in our body? Because we also just have doctor’s checkups to check on the things that we didn’t even realize were happening to us. Or just like getting scanned and checked. And you know, when I get a cough, I know, Oh, like maybe I should just like wear an extra jacket or take some extra vitamin C. You know what I mean? It’s almost like there’s like metrics that are easily recognizable that are almost like red flags to like things that we should take note of and step back on to take care of our physical health. And so, when it’s just as easy to notice things that are in your behaviors that will help you realize, “Oh, I need to take a step back and like take care of my mental health becomes before this becomes like a blown issue.” I just think that they’re not just parallels, but they are kind of like one in the same, your physical and your mental health. And so, when we start treating them like that, like I feel like we have a standard that’s achievable and something that’s like easy to measure. We’re like working towards lifting the stigma but like in order to like measure that success I think that how we treat our physical health is a really good way to go about it.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:22:31:

Yeah. I just kind of on the note of therapy in general one of the things Gary, I don’t even remember what, but it was a call and he said that in an ideal world it’s horrible that therapy is something you have to pay for, because if not everyone in the same way, not everyone is able to pay for like a checkup to the doctor. Auto renew is able to pay for therapy and those types of resources. So, like in an ideal world, if the people you interact with and the people that you call your community have the mental capacity that day to talk to you about your problems. And to kind of be the Avenue that like guides you through them, that would be like almost a temporary or some sort of some sort of fix that would help you kind of understand what you’re thinking. And it’s almost like a sanity check. So, you know, you’re not going crazy for having these things. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:23:47:

I think it’s hard because there are days when friends are like, look, I really appreciate when people ask, like, can I run through, can I do this? Because sometimes I will say if you just bring that on me, that will be like on the back of my mind. And I don’t realize the impact it has on me. So maybe just should be emotionally available for what you need to say. 

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:24:14

Yeah. I was going to say pretty much the same thing that you just said Noor. It’s important though, when you are going through like these friends or these family members to ask to them, like you said, “Hey, can I talk to you about something important to me?” Or “Hey, can we have a conversation about this?” Because like I said, it’s not okay to spring those things on people because that could make it worse for them that could, they could be going through something and they can’t handle that. It’s important that when you’re having this conversation with someone that they are ready to devote time and energy to listening to you and to paying attention and to really helping you, because it’s not going to be beneficial for either of you, if that person isn’t in the right mental state to help you as well.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:24:39:

And just kind of like a note on that too I mean, I know that I struggled a lot with finding a therapist that could relate to my experiences because it’s, it’s sometimes hard to open up to people who don’t have a shared identity. And so if you surround yourself with people that both have shared identities and also ones that maybe are different, which is like always ideal to diversify to people you’re talking to. But sometimes it is easier to open up to like someone who might have lived through the same thing or might have like experienced it from a point of view that you have. Which is why like talking to friends and families should be more open because sometimes those are the people that will understand the most.

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:25:49:

I was just going to say on the flip side of that too, normalizing saying no. I know that when friends come to me, sometimes I have a hard time being like, I know that there’s other things I need to do. And then if I talk to you about this, I will not be able to do like other things today. So just both sides of that being okay, saying, no, I can’t do this right now, but let’s find another time to have that conversation.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:26:18:

Yeah. So, my question was kind of related to what Noor was saying earlier about like once you hear so like, because mental illnesses are so romanticized, people tend to identify with the illness, even if it doesn’t match the meaning. And I think like that does happen, but I think it’s also because it’s hard to distinguish between like when you do just have, you know, anxiety from time to time and when it’s an actual mental illness. So, my question would be like, how do you know when something is an actual serious mental illness or when you just have anxiety or you’re like an organized person?

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:27:04:

Unfortunately, and this is kind of like a blah answer. But we don’t have the training or experience to really say that we’re not psychologists or psychiatrists or therapists. We don’t really have the authority to deem that on ourselves first off or anyone else, especially. But I think that you just, the most important thing is to listen to yourself. And if you feel like you need to reach out to help reach out to someone who can help you and who does have that authority. So if things are serious and you need a diagnosis or medication or some other kind of treatment, you can get it that way. But like I said, it’s not really something that you can easily identify like that. It’s more something that you just have to listen to yourself and trust like, Hey, I think that it’s time for me to seek help.

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:28:03:

And something else I would say too on that is that, I mean, you should never really necessarily try to go about diagnosing yourself, but just, I guess thinking about like, how often does it happen and how much does it impair your functioning. And then also I would say trying to look for patterns cause that was something that I was struggling with. And then I realized like, Oh, I was like, when these things happen in my life, I start feeling that way. So, it’s not, you know, an underlying condition necessarily. I was like, there, there are triggers in my life that caused these things. And that therapy is a place where I could learn how to cope with those things better so that I don’t necessarily feel that way. So sometimes patterns are hard to spot, but sometimes other people can spot them better than you can too. So that’s all I would say.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:28:58:

I think just to like to put it in the context of like other language that we’re really familiar with, it kind of comes down to knowing there can be an issue, but it’s also a matter of knowing when the issue needs a systems intervention, you know what I mean? And coming to the point where you’re just like, yes, this is something that’s happening, but like also some, some challenges or things that you cannot instantaneously fix, but like you can like respond to really easily. And so just like knowing, you know what, this is an ongoing problem, or this is a reoccurring event. Now’s the time to engage with other people who can like help me figure this out. And so, there’s variations, you know what I mean? And everything looks different for everyone, but I think just knowing, like how do I come to the point where like, it’s compromising multiple things and I’m like ready to have other people helping engage with it.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:29:52:

Yeah. I don’t know how like closely this relates to what we’re talking about, but something that always comes to mind is it’s very often, I’ve noticed at least when someone opens up about something someone else would be like, Oh, but I’m going one up you and say that this happened to me. So it’s a really awkward like oppression Olympics. And I’m like, this is a weird like territory we’re getting into. And I think that it like perpetuates like a feeling of like isolation, because if someone else has it worse or almost like convincing yourself that nothing is wrong. You’re like, if someone else has it worse than like, I can’t possibly like have whatever issue, but I think it goes back to Zoe’s point of like, therapy doesn’t mean to just like solve mental illnesses. It’s meant to give you a safe space, to have a conversation about a variety of things you could be struggling with. And I think that’s why, it works for some people is because there’s just someone there to listen to you without being like, Oh, but this happened to this person or like, this is what I experienced. So, you’re on that UVM spectrum.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:30:41:

And I definitely agree with that. Like this whole culture of like, Oh, well I have this and this, or this has happened to me like that whole sort of trying to one up each other through the problems that we’re facing is totally not productive, but also jumping off your idea of therapy. I think it’s also important to kind of have the mindset of like you said, therapy is not a one fits all solution for everyone. And it’s also not something that you’re going to go to one session and be like, ah, I’m cured. I’m better. I’m perfectly happy. That’s not going to happen. I think it’s important when you go into therapy to have the mindset of therapists are here to listen to me and to teach me how to deal with this by myself. So hopefully one day I won’t need to see a therapist. I will know how to handle this on my own accord. And I will have the tools and the coping mechanisms to do this by myself. But like you were saying therapy doesn’t work for everyone. And sometimes there are other coping mechanisms or sometimes you need to seek other treatment that is more specialized to who you are and to what you’re going through. 

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:32:36

So, my question is why do you high schoolers suffer a lot with mental health issues? Or maybe why do you think that they’re more open about it? Something along that line or maybe just students in general? It can include college students as well. Why is it especially prevalent in students? I feel like it’s especially prevalent in our generation.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:33:22:

I think part of it, aside from the fact that like, I mean, we talked about this before, the education system doesn’t set you up correctly for anything. But sometimes it feels like when you get to high school, it’s at least for me in my experience, I don’t even remember who I was in elementary school, but I remember in middle school I put so much pressure on myself to like, be a really good academically, sound student for like no reason, because at least for my students, middle school grades were not like indicative of anything when you got to high school. And I think it’s because it gets to a point where it almost boils over. And especially in the community where I live, it’s a lot of like trash, like you’re going to talk about like, it’s okay, we’re fine. Like, you’re fine. So at least in my school, a lot of like build up to a point where it’s hard not to like hide it anymore, I guess. But specifically as it relates to students, like we are the most empathetic generation that’s in school. And so being able to relate to other’s experiences through our own experiences with mental health issues or just struggles in general, I think that it makes it a lot easier in comparison to other generations open up about that stuff.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:35:00:

And I think a reason why it’s really prevalent in students is because there’s a lot of incentives in our lives to keep engaging in things that like perpetuate our mental illness. So, whether it’s like not getting enough rest or like putting your own like physical and mental health wellbeing as a secondary for like just one more assignment or to take on extra projects or to do as many extracurriculars as you can, for the sake of like common apps that are coming up. There’s just like so much in our lives at the time, or even just like engaging in like problematic coping mechanisms, like drinking or taking drugs or smoking, or, you know, all these things that are like super normalized in high school. There are so many opportunities in that culture that would like to encourage you to not necessarily like create a mental illness, but almost keep it grounded in your personality or the things that you have going on in your life.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:36:01:

Yeah, definitely. And I think that we can all agree that like the way our education system is set up, like in general is just, it’s not really helping us out here. Like, I feel like, especially where I live, I live in a super competitive district in Florida. And you are seen as like super dumb, if you take like one AP class versus taking like seven. I feel like this whole idea that education needs to be competitive is really not helping us out because it’s putting all of this extra pressure, like Chabu was saying to do things that aren’t helping our mental health like trying to fill out that college resume by putting on more extracurriculars and taking on more assignments and taking on more positions and getting jobs and doing all this stuff. But like the amount of competition that is like in our education system is definitely not helping us out now.

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:37:04:

Also just like with the way school is, you can’t get away from the people that are hurting your mental health. Like if there’s drama or if they’re just like people that you don’t like being around, you can’t get away from that. And you just have to deal with that. And I know for me, like there’s a girl, my middle school, like I just was not great being around her. Like she just always had some kind of comment to make about me. And then whenever I did presentations, normally you just look at people with like a resting, nice face. And she was like scowling. And like with scowl when I was talking and like, you know, it’s a class of like 55 people. I can’t get away from her, you know, like we take all the same classes and that was the same situation, I think for a lot of kids in high school too, where it’s like, you can’t get away from the kids who are really problematic. And so, like what Chabu was saying that there’s just pressure like to keep being nice to people because I mean, Oh goodness, you started drama. And that’s just a whole other situation because now everyone’s talking about how you did this one thing. So just a lot of pressure, I think in that way too.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:37:55:

I was just going to say to your point, Zoe, that as far as dealing with people that harm your mental health, there’s kind of just like a “get over it” mindset. Like there’s been people in my life who have had really bad issues as for, in terms of other people in school who were really affecting just their mental health and in their life in general and their parents. I know that they had a very serious conversation with their parents. Their parents were like, well, you’ll have to deal with people like that in the real world. And, and so you just kind of have to get over it. And while that’s true, I think that, especially during your teen years, if you have the opportunity to choose an alternative education that better suits your mental health to where you don’t have to be around those things that make it like exacerbate your issues and you should be able to, and I think that also goes along with just the stigma of mental health in general and seeing these issues as like non-important or just something you can get over with.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:39:33:

I was just thinking about like what Madison and Zoe had mentioned that just how the idea of you can get really vilified for choosing, to just almost put a stop to certain things that are hurting you. So even if it’s like, I don’t want to go to school or like, I brought it, like, just do on my learning and stuff because of things that are happening in the building, people would look at that and be like, why would you do that? Or like, you know, what’s or if, even if you, like, you cut people off and you’re just like, I’d rather not engage with that anymore. We’ll then look at you, give them a chance and like all this other stuff. And so I think that speaks to like an underlying theme that like, prioritizing yourself makes you selfish. But yeah, like you can just like, you can be doing right by yourself and then get portrayed as like someone who like doesn’t care about other people or like you’re being very selfish. And that in itself would probably not make anything much better.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:40:32:

Yeah. I like one of the very specific experiences of that hyper competitive lightness, like, why aren’t you doing this type situations? Is like, I literally don’t know why, but people like compete for the lowest number of hours of sleep they can get. And I’m like, I know that if I don’t get eight hours, I will be the worst human being on the planet. I will be cranky. I will not do my work. And then I’ll nap. And then my sleep cycle is like ruined for the week. So like what, whenever people are like, Oh my God, I got like four hours studying for this test. It’s like, how does anyone respond to that? And it’s like, to Chabu’s point to like, and kind of, Madison’s like in the real world, if you don’t want to, like, if someone isn’t enhancing like your vibe or who you want to be, it should, you shouldn’t be forced to have to interact with them. You should always be like diplomatic. If they’ve not done something like outwardly rude to you. But sometimes if you don’t vibe with people, at least my parents always taught me, like, that’s okay, you don’t have to continue surrounding yourself with them. But sometimes it’s hard to do that because if they have done nothing explicitly wrong to you it might be like difficult to like, pinpoint why you’re upset about it. But one thing Zoe said at the last group think was like I can pinpoint exactly what, like doesn’t vibe well with me, for people. If I go to like my passions and I’m like this passion of mine, or like this value of mine that I value in other people is embarrassing them. And that’s why I don’t enjoy like their company or like having talked to them. So, I think it’s something that should be way more normalized as like, you should be around people that you like being around.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:42:22:

I think it’s really interesting how, we keep bringing up this example of like the real world. And it makes me want to like pose a question, but I’m not quite sure how to pose it, but something along the lines of like, cause I know we talked about school and how it perpetuates mental illness, but like what are, are like much bigger issues in like the world at large that graduate mental illness, because what Nora was talking about and just like this idea of like, I slept four hours, like gay for me, like in my mind, I’m just like, wow, like capitalism is thriving. Like look at us. And just this idea that like, we’re obsessed with like producing and work and there’s not a culture that encourages you to just like rest and enjoy the world that’s around you. And that if you’re doing that, like, are you like being lazy or like calm, productive, and like all these other things. So I kind of want to talk more about like, what are, because high school is genuinely a reflection of like our parents and the world around us too. You know what I mean?

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:43:20:

I definitely agree with that. I, especially, I have a problem with like productivity and like keeping up like productive methods and habits in my lifestyle. Because like you said, this capitalistic society that we live in really values productivity, because productivity means more output. It means more money. It means more growth in that sense. But when we are so focused on being productive, we’re not focusing on ourselves. And I think it’s really important to break that mindset of you have to be productive all the time, especially as a student and especially as like, all of us are, we’re all students with other things outside of just school, we are all involved in at least like two or three extracurriculars knowing you guys, like we have so many things on our plates and it’s important to find a balance of getting what we need to get done and putting the time and attention and like work that those things like our schoolwork and our extracurriculars deserve, but also taking the time that we deserve to not be productive. And I feel like that’s something that a of students struggle with and a lot of adult’s struggle with.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:44:36:

What you said reminds me of something. I was listening to a podcast today that Gary actually sent me. And the speaker she was talking about how, like, you know how you said, take time for yourself. A lot of times we think that we need to take time for ourselves so we can get recharged and like work more. And like the only like point basically in taking time for yourself so that you can be more productive, but we kind of need to train our brains to do things just because like they’re enjoyable and doesn’t all have to like lead up to like making you work better or be more productive.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:45:13:

I love that point. I also think to that note, when people think of self-care, like at least I used to think of it as like the next hour I’m going to do like this elaborate like face mask and I’m going to do X, Y, Z. And it’s going to be like super relaxing for a super long period of time. And then I won’t need it for another month, but it could be as simple as and maybe this isn’t healthy, but like making an extra cup of coffee or like maybe a hot chocolate, just something to calm you down or relax you and put you into that present moment. I think that I was so focused on it being such an elaborate plan that was supposed to solve all my issues and make me more productive. When in reality it’s supposed to, at least for me, it helps when it’s like a grounding exercise, a grounding moment.

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:46:04:

And Elena, you brought this up in like one of our reflection threads, but I think also just how, as a culture we talk about relationships is another thing that perpetuates other mental health issues of weird pressure on people to stay in relationships that aren’t working and that if it’s not working, it’s you and it’s never like you know, sometimes two people just aren’t right for each other or you know, there there’s other issues involved. I think just the whole way that we see relationships as a society, I think really does perpetuate a lot of mental health issues. Like people who aren’t in relationship, there’s like a pressure, like, why aren’t you in one? And then there’s like all this weird pressure, like when you’re in one of like, why isn’t your relationship like that? So it was like, you can’t, you can’t win essentially. Which is refreshing because a lot of relationships are a win, but they’re just not treated that way.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:47:00:

I definitely agree with that. I feel like the whole idea of relationships is that it’s going to make you feel happier and feel better. And that’s what relationships should be about. They should be about bringing someone who you adore and who will bring joy and light into your life closer to you. But like you were saying, it’s just becoming this thing where when you are in a healthy relationship, but maybe you have an argument then seen as it’s like, Oh, you guys aren’t perfect for each other, but then sometimes there are things that you have to sort out, relationships have issues. You have to be open, you have to talk to your partner and you have to figure that out. Because that’s life you’re going to have to, you’re going to go through issues. Not every relationship is going to be a happily ever after sort of ending there are going to be bumps along the way.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:47:53:

And I think that that’s an important thing, like in relation to that, we need to understand, but also like you were saying just there’s so much pressure to be in a relationship. And once you’re in a relationship to be a certain way, and to go down a certain path, to get married, to have kids to lead this suburban fantasy lifestyle when that’s just not for everyone, like I’ve thought about this a lot for a 17-year-old, but I’m not going to get married. I have no intention of getting married until I’m at least 30, because I want time to like explore the world and like explore who I am and explore all of the experiences that await past the borders of wherever I go to college. And I feel like that’s important also is just to realize that you don’t have to follow this sort of narrative that’s been placed on you. I’m definitely like channeling the Jason Lee Jubilee, Ted talks right now, but you don’t have to go down this path that has already been predetermined for you just because society says that’s okay and that, and this pressure and this path is sometimes what hurts our mental health. And if it’s going to hurt your mental health, don’t do it.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:49:11:

I never resonated with something so much. So thank you Elena. But I think that like something that’s also really important to take note of, especially like in the context of high school, and I don’t understand how this, like wouldn’t bleed into like the world at large, but so many of us are still developing and growing and figuring ourselves out and also have our own mental health issues too on top of that, somethings that are spoken of and recognize and some that were completely unaware of. So toxic relationships are severely common. I remember being in high school and just like talking to someone and they’re like, Oh yeah, they do this, this, this. And I’m like, excuse me, what? Like, Oh yeah. Like it’s totally normal to have her block every guy on her Snapchat and him do the same with every girl. And I’m like, for what reason? And there was just like so many other extremely problematic things and I’d find out about that. I’m just like, Oh my God, I can’t believe that’s happening. But people would know about it. And so like, it’s also very normalized and I feel like it’s hard to almost vibe check yourself because what’s normalized as a reflection of the compromised mental health that we all have. And so, you live in a really interesting world where you have no healthy, role models to look to. And what do you do with that? Like how do you manifest something that you’ve never witnessed firsthand before?

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:50:44:

I feel like this whole topic that we’re talking about and everything that’s being said really kind of resonates with the generalization that the societal norms that were forced, or at least like pushed to like lead and build our lives to and conform to in that way are generally what is hurting us when it comes to like, quote unquote real-world problems, whether that be relationships, whether that be productivity and the amount that we have to work. I feel like everything that we’ve been saying so far, it’s just kind of goes along this line of conforming to what society wants us to conform to. And I feel like that just leads to a larger conversation of how do we change these norms to adapt to the fact that they’re not helping many people’s mental health.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:51:36:

Yeah. I think that’s really good one. I think that that’s a great place for us to wrap up since it’s already 7:29. So just kind of quickly before we end wondering how did this group think session for you guys and was it meaningful to you? If so, why?

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:52:00:

To kind of relate to what I was talking about earlier with shared experiences, it’s always nice to fit with that group of people, because I know that, I’m not going to say something and get like really weird stares for what I just said, even if you can’t relate specifically to what I’m talking about. So that’s always a comforting experience is that there’s someone out there that understands.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:52:25:

So this was my first like session. And I think that, it just emphasizes something that I mentioned earlier in the day when I was like talking to a friend about like CU and just talking about the fact that it’s so easy to like dive into the deeper stuff here. It’s normalized. And I love that so much, the fact that someone can just like bring up, you know, normalizations that we have in society. And like, we all kind of just like run with it. And so I love that it was like, it’s just an opportunity to type into like things that are super relevant, but rarely talked about because they’re, you know, a little too deep for day-to-day discussions.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:53:04:

Okay. I feel like I totally agree. Gather like this. See you is one of the few places where I feel like I can have these kinds of discussions with just about anyone. And I feel like it would just vibe and happen naturally. And it would be very meaningful. Rarely have I had a conversation at CU that wasn’t thought provoking and meaningful. And I felt like everyone who was here was contributing and everyone what they said was adding to the conversation and adding to us working towards the overall goal. And I really enjoy that. But also I just think it’s so great to have these kinds of discussions because he’s the kind of discussions that we need to have with people outside of CU to like talking openly, especially about mental health is something that we need to do in our lives. And with other people. But like you said, these are sometimes a bit too deep for just a chatting between zoom classes. So, I really enjoyed this. 

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:54:20:

Yeah. I guess seconding everything everyone else said. I really loved what Noor said earlier, like oppression Olympics, because I’ve heard like different terms for that. I think that’s by far my favorite and I like that we avoided that. I think that’s really easy to get into when you start talking about mental health, like people told stories today and no one was like, well, let me tell you about what happened to me in a way that was like your story is now irrelevant, but we were really just building on each other in a really nice way. And I think also we talked about stuff that can be really hard to talk about without making it hard to talk about, which is the way we should talk about mental health and toxic relationships and things like that.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:54:55:

That definitely speaks to like the quality of the people that are here. So, I also just want to like cap off by saying thank you all of you for being so great.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:55:12

There are awesome people in this call. It’s just overwhelming, honestly. Like these are all, all of you are icons. I love you guys. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:55:20

And all of this happened digitally. Like, I don’t know about you, but I have struggled making small talk with my teachers over Zoom. And we just had a full conversation that was very intense with multiple other people. So proud of you guys. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:55:51:

So that was awesome. It’s funny that this like a common thread of like all the group, things have been everything can be made better in this society. I really resonated with what everyone said, but Elena was really hitting the nail on the head there that the mental health issues reflect a much deeper sickness of our society. And we need to think really big about how to make a new world.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:56:29:

It’s important though. I should say, because I don’t want that comment. I made to be misused in any way. It’s important to approach that with optimism though. Like I feel like, yeah, the norms that we’re bringing, being forced to conform to are definitely not helping us, but we need to approach that from the perspective of how can we make that better? Like we have boundless opportunities in this world. We just need to act on this optimism and this energy that we have instead of letting that get us down.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:57:03:

Oh, I love that. I think that it’s really important to remind yourself that the same world that gives you, so much like anger and frustration and absolute confusion is the one that like inspires you and makes you excited and like gives you something like the happiest moments that you can remember. So the good does co-exist with the bad here.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:57:27:

Okay. So there’s not anything else then I think we can wrap it up for say thank you guys for coming and be sure to tune in next week to our next episode to be determined on the topic.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:57:51:

Well, we might start doing two a week. Also, there’s going to be a post-election special. 

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:58:03:

We might need to get everyone in CU in on that one though, I feel like everyone’s going to want to talk.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:58:08:

There’s an open invitation for someone to just like, hold my hand that entire night while I like freak out. I’m so scared of election. II can’t even speak now talking about it. But hopefully everything goes as it should.

Zoe Jenkins – Steering Committee Chair, Civics 2030: 00:58:27:

And it’s just weird because it’s not even like really election night. Like we won’t know. I wish that the media felt comfortable enough to just totally distance away from this concept of like, we have to stay up until 1:00 AM to cover something that we’re like, those aren’t even the results. Like we’re not even going to know.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:58:47:

We didn’t even talk that much about media cable news and how that affects. Bad vibes.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:59:00:

Can we do a part two and just focus on those things? Because man, I could go off of half that I think what’s scarier is like in 2016, I was 12 years old like that. I was very young. I was in eighth grade, so maybe I was 12. I don’t know. But I was like, what? And people are always like, Oh, but why are you focusing on politics now? Like, well, you know, that XYZ did something worse. And it’s like, yeah, I was like six. I did not have any recollection of that nor was I in the mindset to. So, I think that’s what makes it scarier at least for me, this is some time that I’ve been like how we involved or have we paying attention to.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:59:47:

I have a girl in my history class and today we were kind of talking about voting just because what else does people do? People talk about these days? And she made the comment like, Oh, I just realized I haven’t lived in a pre-Trump America because she immigrated to America in 2016. So like she’s never lived in an America without Trump, as president. And I feel like that statement alone gone in a lot of backlash. And she was like, yo, that wasn’t like a political statement. That was just an observation. And I feel like that’s another thing like for her she didn’t know about American politics; she wasn’t trying to make a statement.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:00:31:

I mean, that’s super fascinating. I mean, a few of us today, we’re jamming on the power of words and the oppressive power of words. So maybe that’s one of the ones that we do next. There’s just so much good stuff to jam on and this format is just so simple. Just bring in amazing people talk about whatever feels meaningful. All right. Let’s wrap up Madison.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 01:01:06:

Okay. Well, just to say it again, thank you guys for coming and tune in maybe next week if the episode comes out next week. And if it comes out earlier, tune in then too.

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