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Classroom Voices

Hosts of teen mental health podcast discuss what drew them to 'On Our Minds'

May 3, 2022

 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Student Reporting Labs is launching its second season of “On Our Minds,” a student-hosted podcast that explores teen mental health. Season 2 is hosted by high school students Matt Suescun and Faiza Ashar, and features personal stories from students all around the country and conversations with experts and influencers about mental health issues like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, grief, identity and more.

PBS NewsHour Classroom connected with Ashar and Suescun to discuss what drew them to the podcast and what unique challenges their generation faces around mental health. You can listen to the “Passing the Mic” episode featuring Season 1 and Season 2 hosts here.

Faiza Ashar, 16

Eastern Technical High School, Baltimore, Maryland

“On Our Minds” Season 2 host Faiza Ashar

What prompted you to be a part of this podcast production?

I applied to be a host for the podcast shortly after listening to the first season of “On Our Minds.” Discovering the podcast came at a time where I was transitioning from virtual learning to in-person school, and I found the podcast to be like a warm hug amid all the uncertainty.

What sorts of mental health supports did your school offer, if any?

My school offers limited options for mental health support, especially since we are an academically driven school. Although our counseling office is always open and there for students to speak their minds, there is a much larger emphasis on academics rather than mental health.

In what kinds of ways do you think a podcast like this on mental health might be helpful for other students?

Just like the podcast has provided comfort for me, I believe that a podcast on teenage mental health driven by teenagers themselves like “On Our Minds” is bound to positively impact other students. The podcast acknowledges the range of mental health and its presence in everyday life, which challenges the stigma that still surrounds the field now.

What do you think that your generation faces that past generations haven’t when it comes dealing with mental health?

I think our generation faces the largest paradox of all time: social media. The easy accessibility to the world has served us both positively and negatively. While we can use social media to learn about mental health, self-expression and basic life tips, social media also encourages unrealistic expectations of one’s image and life as a whole. These expectations can weigh down on you, ranging from beauty standards to experiencing the fear of missing out. These heightened expectations can impact mental health, as the pressure to either conform or do better can truly weigh individuals down.


Matt Suescun, 17

Bergen County Academies, Wyckoff, New Jersey

“On Our Minds” Season 2 host Matt Suescun

What prompted you to be a part of this podcast production?

I applied to be a host for “On Our Minds” following a series of assemblies and activities conducted by my school in an effort to promote a mental health initiative. These attempts — while well intended — failed to both address issues in an appropriate manner and lacked awareness on the school’s behalf. This was around the same time that I started listening to “On Our Minds,” and hearing other students speak on mental health made me realize that I could also contribute to the national mental health movement. 

What sorts of mental health supports did your school offer, if any?

My school offers a variety of different mental health assemblies and workshops as part of its mental health support. However, these materials are extremely outdated. The most common criticisms I hear are that the school treats us like toddlers one minute and adults the next.  

In what kinds of ways do you think a podcast like this on mental health might be helpful for other students?

A podcast like “On Our Minds” can be extremely helpful for other students because it’s hosted by teens, for teens. Oftentimes, mental health content is outdated and ineffective because it’s presented by adults who may not understand certain spaces like social media. By having teenagers speaking on these complex issues which are often ignored, our hope is that “On Our Minds” can allow young people to feel heard and valued. 

What do you think that your generation faces that past generations haven’t when it comes dealing with mental health?

The biggest challenge our generation faces in terms of dealing with mental health is 100% social media. Although we hear many times that social media is simply people sharing an extremely curated version of their lives to the internet, seeing others having seemingly “perfect” lives can cause insecurities and be a detriment to one’s mental health. Social media places unrealistic expectations on yourself that are not realistic to achieve.


Check out this lesson based on an episode from Season 1 of “On Our Minds.” Fill out this form to share your thoughts on Classroom’s resources. Sign up for NewsHour Classroom’s ready-to-go Daily News Lessons delivered to your inbox each morning.

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