Community Notebook: Palo Alto eighth-grader organizes mental health 'Stigmabusters' walk

Today's event, open to the public, aims to spur conversation about mental health

Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School eighth-grader Neha Tallapragada was given a task last semester: Find something she is passionate about that also benefits the local community and pursue it for a "20 percent" project in her leadership class. (The project, which teachers have used at many local schools, is modeled after Google's program allowing employees to use 20 percent of their time to work on something outside of their job descriptions.)

Tallapragada settled on reducing the stigma around mental health as her passion, and a community walk will be held today, April 29, as the way to benefit her Palo Alto community.

"This is a very driven community, but it's important to step back for a minute and think about – Are you mentally well? Are you feeling OK? Are you feeling too stressed out?" Tallapragada said. "Especially students need to recognize that it's okay to not be OK and it's okay to talk about if you're feeling different or if you're feeling isolated in your feelings."

She hopes the event will be a space for that, as a well as a symbolic walk – or run – in solidarity with those who might be struggling with mental health issues.

The "Stigmabusters" walk will be held from 12:30 to 1:05 p.m. at JLS at 400 East Meadow Drive. Participants will be given stickers, walk around a track together and hear several speakers, including Tallapragada and JLS Common Core coach Ann Lorey, who helped Tallapragada during the planning process.

Along the way, Tallapragada also worked with mental health therapist Sirina Warfel, leadership teacher Jaime Buddle and Gerry Larvy, a member on the Santa Clara County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) board of directors and former JLS administrator. She said Larvy provided critical experience and advice on the logistics for the event – namely making it more inclusive by making it a shorter rather than longer run or walk.

"Neha's commitment to opening the conversation on mental health is a great example of what can happen when we allow students to crate projects that revolve around their passions," JLS Principal Sharon Ofek said in a district press release. Other students' projects included organizing a party for people with disabilities at the nonprofit Abilities United and bake sales to raise money for local organizations like the Palo Alto municipal animal shelter or nonprofit Ronald McDonald House.

Tallapragada said her school counselors have done a good job of starting conversations about mental health at the school, including talking about stress and how to unwind.

"But there are people, as there are people everywhere, who make jokes about mental illness, who are not especially sensitive towards it," Tallapragada said, "and that's just part of the stigma surrounding mental health. You can laugh it off or just completely ignore it, and those are two things that we don't want to do. That's what this event is about."

Non-JLS staff or students should check in at the main office before attending today's event.

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6 people like this
Posted by It's JL Stanford
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 8:29 am

Congratulations to Neha! What a great, and timely, project! Thank you for contributing to this community!

Note to editor: It's Jane Lathrop Stanford (JLS) Middle School.

2 people like this
Posted by Frugaler
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 29, 2015 at 9:18 am

This is a lovely community service project but what is the "20% time" thing? Did that come before the school board? What does this even mean? How are middle schoolers supposed to just decide what they want to do with 1/5 of their time?

A real community service curriculum like YCS would make sense. This does not make sense. Middle schoolers are not Googlers. That puts way too much pressure on them to figure out what to do independently. At Google, an engineer looking for a 20% time project has an internal list of projects looking for 20% time engineers to join it. They don't have to create it themselves. If you are creating a project and team yourself, that is a different animal and requires typically a lot more than 20% of your requires approvals, a PM, etc etc.

This is just more stupid flashbang gee whiz. I see an 8th grade trip to Singapore on the horizon.

3 people like this
Posted by It's JL Stanford
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 10:50 am


I'm sure the "20%" refers to 20% of the time in that one class - Leadership, not 20% of all of their time. And clearly, these middle schoolers, with teacher and outside guidnace, are figuring out what to do with that time.

1 person likes this
Posted by Harold A. Maio
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 30, 2015 at 2:01 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by employee
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 9:00 am

Neha did a great job in getting the message out to students, that they do not have to keep quiet about what they are experiencing. Stress and being overwhelmed are all too often common amongst our teens, and letting them know, that there are ways to help with that, and people to talk to is a fantastic thing to convey. I am surprised by some of the comments on here. Very cynical. What would you rather expect of our teens? To not talk when they are stressed out? To keep quiet?

It takes a lot of courage to do something like this an organize an event like this. I am sure it took a lot of coordination and time. Kudos to Neha.

5 people like this
Posted by ABC
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 10:03 am

Kids who are really stressed-out are from a culture that belittles mental illness as weak and it's actually their parents who are stressing them out.

Like this comment
Posted by midtown mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2015 at 11:52 am

midtown mom is a registered user.

Wonderful that this young lady is putting her energy into working on mental health stigma.

While something like this walk won't hurt and could help, mental health stigma will only go away when people "come out" the way those in other communities with invisible stigmas have, such as the gay community.

The problem specific to Palo Alto is less about mental health stigma (we probably have less of that than most areas of the country -- though I do agree with previous poster that some would see it as a "weakness" that shouldn't be admitted.) What we do have that is more unique to us (and other upscale communities) is more pressure to succeed, to succeed quickly (ie. young), and a narrower definition of success.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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