ARIZONA NEWS

Chandler teen aiming to help fellow youth with mental health problems

Apr 8, 2024, 4:25 AM

Arizona Students for Mental Health aims to help young people struggling with issues. (AZ Students f...

Arizona Students for Mental Health aims to help young people struggling with issues. (AZ Students for Mental Health Photo)

(AZ Students for Mental Health Photo)

PHOENIX — A Chandler teen who started a nonprofit nearly two years after her own mental health struggles is continuing her mission to help youth suffering from the same problems.

Riana Alexander was a junior at Chandler High School in 2022 when she had a mental health crisis. Her days at that time weren’t fun — she stopped spending time with friends and family and instead was alone, typically sleeping. At one point, she had to go to online school so she could get treatment.

Alexander had a good support system in her mother, but she started Arizona Students for Mental Health later in 2022 to help younger people who were going through the same issues she was, especially those without the same resources.

“The reason that I’m so passionate about mental health is because a lot of teens aren’t able to come out from these struggles well,” Alexander told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Outspoken with Bruce and Gaydos on Thursday.

Identifying teen mental health problems

Alexander said that when she was having her issues, she initially struggled to differentiate between normal teen problems and deeper mental health symptoms.

Her nonprofit staff — Alexander has nearly 10 people, all high schoolers, helping — push out resources to the community on the warning signs of mental health problems. Part of the outreach involves informing the community on how to work with someone who is suspected of having issues.

Alexander’s mom was the one who helped her realize her behavior wasn’t normal.

“I think a lot of times, there’s really smart, really capable students that just fall through the cracks because their parents didn’t notice or their teachers didn’t notice and there’s just so much going on in so many people’s lives that sometimes, it’s really hard to see if your teen is struggling,” Alexander said.

Erasing the mental health stigma

The other part of Alexander’s nonprofit’s mission is to remove the stigma associated with mental health.

Her staff is purposely made up of high schoolers in order to amplify younger voices on an issue that is affecting them.

Arizona Students for Mental Health also works with the Chandler Unified School District and some Arizona politicians on how to tackle the issues.

Even so, Alexander said the work has to start at home.

“There’s not a job or a grade or any situation that’s going to be more important than you and prioritizing your health,” Alexander said. “So, if the steps to do that is talking to your parents about what’s going on, then you should do that and just be open and honest.”

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Chandler teen aiming to help fellow youth with mental health problems