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La Jolla High student SWEARs to raise awareness of teen mental health

La Jolla High School student Nina Bonaventure has taken on several projects to raise awareness of teen mental health.
(Courtesy of Nina Bonaventure)

Trying to ease her peers’ mental health concerns, a La Jolla teenager has taken on projects at her school and hopes to continue advocating for ways to help.

Nina Bonaventure, a junior at La Jolla High School, is a member of the San Diego Unified School District’s Student Wellness Education and Resources, or SWEAR, committee, composed of students from nearly every high school in the district.

SWEAR was formed last year, said Sharon Rubacalva, faculty leader for the committee and program manager for SDUSD’s department of counseling and guidance. Student members meet biweekly to discuss, share and improve mental health resources at their school sites.

The committee, which is “almost 100 percent student-led,” has been successful in pushing through mental health initiatives at district high schools, Rubacalva said.

She said Nina “went even further than what was required,” working with child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Desiree Shapiro, one of the committee’s supporters, to gather data on the mental health of her La Jolla High peers and inviting Shapiro to speak to the students earlier this year via Zoom about coping with stress.

With Shapiro’s guidance, Nina conducted a survey on the “teen-trusted adult relationship,” which was completed anonymously by 50 students via social media.

Nina then created and published an infographic on the survey’s results, which showed her “there’s a lot of stress [and] teens aren’t always given the opportunities and the tools to be able to uplift their own mental health,” she said.

The survey indicated that teenagers are “not connected to the resources, or they don’t have a relationship with their trusted adult to be able to talk about their mental health,” Nina said.

The survey “was also a way to see how we could best increase the relationship that teens have with their trusted adult,” she said, and suggested that adults and teens schedule time to talk, whether in a routine car ride or before bedtime.

Nina also worked on SWEAR’s “10 days of winter wellness” social media campaign, implementing it at LJHS.

An infographic developed by La Jolla High student Nina Bonaventure shows how students responded to a survey on mental health.
Part of an infographic developed by La Jolla High School student Nina Bonaventure shows how students responded to a survey on mental health.
(Courtesy of Nina Bonaventure)

Nina said she’s learned that “so many students are struggling with mental health, either because of academic pressures or family. … Especially during the pandemic, a lot of people had a lot of time alone, and that led to a lot of self-reflection.”

“We can increase our mental health in so many different ways,” she said. “Just getting some of those resources and spreading awareness can make everybody’s life so much better.”

Nina’s efforts are important, Shapiro said, as one in five youths suffers from mental illness, and half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24.

“Early identification and care works and can positively impact an adolescent’s future,” Shapiro said. Programs like SWEAR can shorten the average eight- to 10-year delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention, she added.

“SWEAR is incredible and they’ve done so many things: advocating for mental health days for students, increasing awareness, decreasing stigma and creating a safe community for students to support one another,” Shapiro said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 309 into law Oct. 8, which Rubacalva said will ensure that schools notify students and their families at least twice a year of mental health resources.

Rubacalva said the hope is that the resources cultivated by the SWEAR committee will trickle down to SDUSD middle and elementary schools.

“There’s no health without mental health, so we want to help students talk about it,” Shapiro said. “We want to be able to create environments that facilitate getting care that’s needed, and we want to say that it’s OK to not be OK.” ◆