An internship with Alameda County Behavioral Healthcare Services (ACBHCS) was more than a résumé boost.

“It was a life-changing experience!” she said.

In the summer of 2018, Monica was entering her senior year at Skyline High School in Oakland when she took on the five-week paid summer internship. She learned professional skills such as creating spreadsheets and Microsoft Word documents, and researching grants. Plus the program taught interns how to help other students.

“I got certified for Youth Mental Health First Aid, which is pretty amazing,” she said. “I feel like that should be offered in schools.”

The program connected interns with local community based organizations that offer mental health wellness services to clients in at-risk populations.

“Youth Uprising was another big impact, said Monica. “I learned the importance of connectivity and how much that could impact youth, especially urban youth.”

What made the ACBHCS internship extra special for her were the wellness tools she learned that can be applied to her personal life and for community building.

“We did a healing circle and other activities that made us reflect on ourselves, our communities and how we interact with people.”

Funds from the Mental Health Service Act helped make this internship and provide unforgettable learning experiences. For Monica, a training led by Family Education Resource Center (FERC) Director Annie Kim falls into that category.

“Annie’s training taught me to be really aware of mental health stigma,” said Monica. “An example she gave us is when you say, ‘Oh my God I’m so OCD,’ when you’re organizing something. But there are people who have OCD, that can’t function without fixing something. It made me aware that I should watch my language.”

When Monica returned to school in the fall, she worked with Annie in creating a similar training for Skyline High students. The activity included participants walking around a room with a mental health diagnosis label on their backs. Others in the room treated them based on the stereotypes associated with that diagnosis. During the post-training reflection, she said some of the student participants commented, “I didn’t realize how much that would hurt. That actually hurt me.”

Monica launched a group at her high school called Tertulia, which is a Spanish word for a gathering of people to discuss current issues. Monica’s club addresses mental health. They hosted the school’s first Mental Health Assembly. Monica said part of her interest in mental health stems from her own personal hardships.

“I struggled with mental health in my early years of high school”, she shared. “I was confused myself.”

Monica is a first generation Vietnamese-American, and realized that culture played a role in her lack of understanding.

“Mental health is a topic that’s never touched in my culture,” she explained. “I don’t even know the term for mental health in Vietnamese. Before this internship I don’t think I knew who I was. Through learning about mental health I got to get in touch with my own mental health.”

The journey of self-discovery continues for Monica at UC Santa Barbara where she’s now a first year student. Monica plans to double major in public policy and sociology, and minor in educational studies.

“I believe in the importance of how one’s health affects your academic performance, especially when you’re young,” said Monica. She hopes to return to Oakland and work with youth. Then, she’ll be able make a positive, life-changing impact on young people.