Sarah Liu believes that there is nothing more important than mental health.
She noticed that the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have gone far beyond the extreme physical ailments; this pandemic caused major societal anguish and a youth mental health crisis. With all the stress and uncertainty that comes with living in a world that has been so heavily impacted by insurmountable loss and suffering, Sarah thought it was crucial that she do something to help educate our youth on mental health: what it is and how we manage the symptoms. Most importantly: she wanted to end the all-too-pervasive stigma that surrounds mental health in our society and disseminate misinformation by creating a high-quality mental health curriculum that could be distributed online & in person.
Sarah wanted her Gold Award to play a role in the next generation’s leaders and advocates’ development of necessary tools to express their emotional needs both inside and outside of the classroom. Just as students are taught to express their physical needs, Sarah believes that it is important that children have a basic knowledge about their mental needs and how they should care for themselves emotionally.
For example: a world without negative mental health stigma would support a child experiencing a panic attack by educating them on the necessary steps to calm themselves down. Sarah believes that this level of understanding is a learned behavior that can easily be built into our children’s early education curriculum.
Sarah discovered through her research and the personal experience she gained while completing her Gold Award, that children need help to develop an understanding of the cues that their mind sends to their body. While they know that they feel anxious, they don’t know what is making them feel this way or how to cope with it. They don’t realize that mental health is just another bodily function that needs to be tended to and presents differently in everyone.
Sarah saw firsthand the negative effects of the prevalent stigma against mental health and mental health treatment in our society. By reviewing some research done by the American Psychiatric Association, Sara discovered that over 20% of Americans experience some form of mental illness, and less than half of those individuals are actively seeking or participating in treatment.
With the help of her school’s guidance counselor and a few equally passionate friends, Sarah got to work developing what she calls “The Firefly Project”. Together, they would create an educational program that would stop the perpetuation of mental health stigma at the source. By creating a program that allows for open communication surrounding mental health, the development of harmful stereotypes lessens because of an increase in awareness and understanding.
Sarah felt that elementary school aged children should be her target audience, to begin the mental health education process early. So, Sarah got to work creating a website, an Instagram account, an online pledge, educational quiz games, and a high caliber curriculum-based seminar.
Upon the completion of her Gold award, Sarah reported that she gathered 100 “End-the-Stigma” signatures, had 450 website visits, 50+ social media followers, and educated 115 children from 20 different youth groups across 12 states. These results more than doubled her original goals for the Firefly project.
When asked about her project’s biggest obstacles, she cited the necessary switch from in-person to online presentation formats and stated that “adaptability, flexibility, and problem-solving were integral to this project’s success.”
Sarah also noticed a big change in her own self-confidence after completing her Gold Award. She reflected by stating that “as a young woman of color, society often does not encourage [her] to speak up or challenge status quos,” and that she found that “the most important takeaway from completing [her] gold award is [the discovery that] that [she is] capable of making a positive difference in the world.”
Sarah Liu is an exemplary Girl Scout; a person filled with courage, confidence, and character. We are so proud of her for making this huge difference in her community and for being one of GSUSA’s national scholarship recipients. Congratulations Sarah, you’ve certainly earned all of your inspiring successes!