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Celebrities, local teens gather in S.F. to fight stigma around mental health


Celebrities and Bay Area high school students gathered in a San Francisco nightclub Wednesday to talk about mental health with the hope of ending the stigma.

Among the celebrities at Bimbo’s 365 Club were actors Melissa McCarthy and Glenn Close, comedian Jay Pharoah and singer Andy Grammer. During the event, the 10th annual Revels and Revelations — organized by Bring Change to Mind — McCarthy was honored with the 6th annual Robin Williams Legacy of Laughter Award.

Among the students in attendance were Salma Shaik, 14, and Azin Anees, 17.

Salma said events such as Wednesday night’s are critical in providing a safe space to encourage other youth to talk about their mental health.

Salma, who just began to get involved with Bring Change to Mind this year, said the program has challenged her.

“It’s a very important discussion because there needs to be awareness,” she said. “Especially if kids are not educated about these topics or exposed to them at an early age, the stigma keeps going and keeps getting worse with time. How is anyone to feel safe in a world where you can’t speak about what you are going through.”

Azin, of Presentation High School in San Jose, said she believes young people her age are now taking the initiative in having difficult conversations about mental health isssues.

“I definitely think that our generation is taking the first step in talking about it,” Azin said. “I feel like we were raised in a society and culture where mental health is seen as a weakness. I really hope this event empowers students to not only forward about their own mental health but advocate for others.”

Close — who founded Bring Change to Mind alongside her sister — said she believes the future in addressing the stigma around mental health is rooted in students like Anees and Shaik. Both students gave a speech alongside a group of other local high school students during the presentation.

“They inspire us. They get it,” Close said. “If they have a chance and have a safe space where they can learn what it means to be vigilant and to be able to talk openly about what they are dealing with, that’s what they are doing and we try to be there to back them up.”

Reflecting on the previous 10 Revels and Revelations events, Zachary Williams — son of comedian Robin Williams and board member with Bring Change to Mind — said he was amazed at how far the event has come but believes that there is so much work to be done.

“It’s phenomenal how far we’ve come but from my perspective there is so much more to do and it requires community coordination in terms of unlocking the resources to invest in research to further reduce stigma,” he said.

To strengthen those efforts, Bring Change to Mind has also established its own advisory board focusing on further building a relationship with the scientific community, according to Williams.

“When it comes to researching how we can best support young people, it requires cross collaboration and coordination among many different disciplines both in terms of stigma research, medical-sociological research and data collection.”

Before accepting the Legacy of Laughter award, McCarthy said she sees bravery in the younger generation to break the cycles of silence regarding mental health.

“I think this generation — I see it in my girls — the pride I have that they are growing up in a world where they can advocate for themselves, they can speak to how they are feeling, we just have to be there to be able to deliver to give them support,” she said. “Growing up nobody talked about mental health but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t affecting millions of people.”

Joel Umanzor (he/him) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: joel.umanzor@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jr_umanzor



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