Jefferson Award Winner Founded TeenzTalkBy Sharon Chin

LOS ALTOS (KPIX 5) One in five children ages 13 to 18 years old live with a mental health condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A Los Altos teenager discovered how serious the problem is when she encountered a real life crisis: she stepped in to prevent a friend from taking her own life. Then she set out to bring hope to teenagers worldwide.

Nadia Ghaffari felt compelled to break the silence on teenagers’ mental health struggles.

“My friend was living with depression and her parents did not know,” Ghaffari said. “She was silently suffering to a point where she attempted suicide, and I had to intervene to get her professional help.”

Ghaffari called 911, they went to the emergency room, and her friend received the medical and psychological help she needed.

Soon after, Ghaffari founded the mental health nonprofit, TeenzTalk, to help others. That was in 2016. She was a junior at Los Altos High School. Two years later, her TeenzTalk website gets more than 2,000 visitors a week.

Young volunteers across the globe tell their stories on video and share resources for help.

“The stories are really meant to show young people at large that they’re not alone,” explained Ghaffari.

TeenzTalk also organizes an annual Teen Wellness Conference. More than 200 young people, mostly teenagers, talk openly about mental health challenges.

This year’s event was held at Google’s Sunnyvale campus and sponsored by community organizations like Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission of California.

At the end of the conference, students are asked to take some action on mental health. They write their responses on sticky notes, and post them on a board for all to see. Some pledge to reach out to friends in need. Others promise to see a counselor. Still others say they will start a club at school to promote teen wellness.

Ghaffari inspired Leigh High School junior Lauryn Mineta to share with the audience her struggle with anxiety and depression.

“To come to a conference like this where everyone’s openly talking about it helps bring down the stigma already,” said Mineta.

Ghaffari also gave Menlo High School senior Walter Li advice on the layout of a teen wellness center that opened on his campus last April.

“The fact that she took the time out of her day to do that is a testament to how caring she is,” said Li.

Ghaffari serves on various community advisory boards and committees, like the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Well Being. She has also won several local and national awards for her work in teen mental health awareness.

She plans to earn degrees in psychology and law and enter the mental health field. Even though she’s now a Cal Berkeley freshman, Ghaffari still runs TeenzTalk. In fact, she’s expanding its message to college students and young adults.

“I just hope some of these actions will help someone,” she explained.

So for bringing hope and help to young people with mental health conditions, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Nadia Ghaffari.

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