How Cultural History Impacts Mental Health

December 5, 2019  • Institute Staff

Jenara Nerenberg, a journalist and the founder of the Neurodiversity Project, looked at the students at Marion C. Moore High School in Louisville, Kentucky, and dared them to think differently about mental health. Nerenberg was speaking at the Aspen Challenge, an Institute program that asks students to solve pressing problems in their own communities. The students explored how identity and an understanding of self can affect mental health. “We can’t understand the stigma around mental health until we understand the outside forces that impact our communities,” Ariana Tulay, an Aspen Challenge participant, said. That means improving education around specific populations’ histories, so people can explore their roots and accept themselves. The students met with representatives in the Kentucky state legislature and developed a bill to require that African and Native American history be included in any world history and civilization courses offered at public middle or high schools. Student Sariah Mason presented the idea to Kentucky State Representative Attica Scott, who then pre-filed the bill to bring before the General Assembly. “They’ve had excellent practice interacting with lawmakers, politicians, and people in our community,” Lydia Brian, a Moore High School teacher and Aspen Challenge coach, said. The students also presented their solution at the Kentucky Derby Business and Diversity Summit, inspiring the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce to sponsor the team on a trip to Washington so the students could introduce their legislation to advocacy groups and lawmakers. “It made me more aware of what I can do,” Josue Velasquez, an Aspen Challenge participant, said. “It really lets you know how you can change things out in the world.”