Torrey Pines students start Letters to Strangers chapter

Walk
Leonie Glaesner, Greta Boatcher, Katherine Drennan, Ava Sargent and Danielle Katz participated in the walk to help raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
(Solana Espino)

After starting a local chapter of Letters to Strangers over the summer, three Torrey Pines High School juniors raised about $800 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention during their first major event last weekend.

Participants walked, ran, swam or performed some other type of exercise by themselves and took pictures for posting on social media to raise awareness.

TPHS students
TPHS students Ava Sargent, Letters to Strangers chapter secretary, Ashton Nguyen, chapter president, and Kate Nelson, chapter vice president
(Solana Espino)

“Due to the COVID-19 situation, everything is virtual so everyone is able to sign up online and donate through their website,” said Ashton Nguyen, 17, president of the chapter. “And then everyone can do whatever exercise they choose.”

She started the chapter with her friends, Kate Nelson, who serves as the chapter’s vice president, and Ava Sargent, chapter secretary.

Letters to Strangers is a student-run nonprofit that aims to destigmatize mental health issues and promote treatment options for youth from approximately ages 13 to 24, according to its website.

Ashton Nguyen and Annika Zimmerer
Ashton Nguyen and Annika Zimmerer
(Solana Espino)

It was started in 2013 by Diana Chao, a Southern California native who was in high school at the time. She began coping with the symptoms she experienced from bipolar disorder by writing letters to others who faced similar challenges. Members of the nonprofit’s chapters, which are typically based on school campuses, write letters offering support to other members or to people in partner organizations.

Letters to Strangers also holds educational initiatives, including trainings and talks, as well as advocacy for policy initiatives that urge officials to support mental health initiatives. Anxiety disorders and depression are two of the more common types of mental health conditions people experience.

Hailey Hellenkamp, Kate Nelson, Jack Dekoker
Hailey Hellenkamp, Kate Nelson, Jack Dekoker
(Solana Espino)

“Mental health has been a cause that has been important to me ever since I was young,” Nguyen said. “It’s something that needs to be normalized and something that needs to be talked about more, and especially among my generation. I feel like my generation is much more open to talking about mental health and seeking help. I think there’s still such a stigma around receiving therapy and going to get help. I just feel that working to raise awareness helps normalize that.”

She added that the nonprofit is meant to “provide a personal experience around mental health,” and raise awareness

In August and September, members of her chapter wrote letters to UC San Diego health care workers who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, including doctors and nurses, to thank them for their service.

“It’s meant to bring people together and bring awareness to mental health and just to let people know that they aren’t alone,” Nguyen said.

For more information, visit letterstostrangers.org.

Nicole Gross, Sophia Rauch, Alyna Villarreal
Nicole Gross, Sophia Rauch, Alyna Villarreal
(Solana Espino)


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