“I found my safe space:” How I Navigate My Mental Health as an Activist
By CVP Communications Intern Yasmine Ganemtore
Yasmine Ganemtore is excited to be joining the CVP communication team as an intern. Ganemtore is currently a rising sophomore pursuing degrees in Political Science and English with the goal of becoming an immigration lawyer in the future. She is passionate about breaking down barriers and promoting access to education for all, which is why she is thrilled to be part of CVP's mission to reduce student voting barriers. Ganemtore is eager to use her communication skills to contribute to CVP's success and to learn from this experience as she continues to grow both personally and professionally.
October marks National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. It is important to recognize that mental health plays a significant role in all aspects of our lives, including the ways we participate in civic engagement. Mental health issues and stigmas can significantly impact our lives, and it is essential to prioritize and take care of our mental health just as we do with our physical health.
Politics play a pivotal role in shaping our communities and society as a whole. Being civically engaged provides an opportunity for us to voice our opinions, advocate for our beliefs, and work toward positive change. At the same time, investing significant time and energy into one issue can be emotionally and mentally taxing.
As activists, we often face criticism, insults, and the frustration of not feeling heard, which can further worsen our well-being. The pressure to make a difference, coupled with the emotional intensity of political discourse, can lead to burnout and emotional exhaustion.
Recognizing and addressing these challenges is crucial to ensuring that we can engage in civic activities while maintaining our mental health.
In September, I had the great honor of meeting Taraji P. Henson and Sofia Wylie at the Kate Spade New York Global Summit on Women's Mental Health and Empowerment. As an advocate for mental health, being invited to this event by Black Girls Smile, an organization committed to helping Black girls achieve mental wellness, was truly a highlight of my journey. At the summit, Henson and Wylie spoke about the importance of taking breaks, and surrounding ourselves with supportive people. Their message truly resonated with me as someone who has struggled with prioritizing my own mental wellbeing. Learning from these incredible women and hearing their personal stories fueled my passion to continue advocating for mental health.
But prioritizing my mental wellbeing hasn't always been easy, as I recall the times I had difficulty managing my feelings in the past.
The killing of George Floyd had a tremendous impact on my ability to be an advocate against police brutality and prioritize my mental health during a global pandemic. I recall participating in a number of protests that year after George Floyd's death, and particularly one I attended in Lower Manhattan was especially emotional for me. I was deeply moved by the raw emotion and intensity of the event as I marched alongside other activists. The charged atmosphere, filled with a sense of urgency, was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The powerful chants and passionately made signs left a lasting impression on me, as I witnessed a collective call to action for justice to be served for a life that was wrongfully taken.
Looking back on the march, I realize that its uniqueness lay in its sense of purpose and unity. People from diverse backgrounds came together to advocate for change, chanting "Black Lives Matter", “I can’t breathe”, and "No Justice, No Peace" with the most creative and heart-wrenching signs I had ever seen. This march was a powerful reminder of what can be accomplished when individuals come together with a common goal.
Witnessing all these events during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had already left many people isolated and struggling with their mental health, was too much for me. I worried about the number of deaths recorded daily and felt overwhelmed with negativity and stress related to racial issues and the pandemic. The ongoing protests stirred up complex emotions within me. While I strongly believed in the need for systemic change, the safety risks of large gatherings during a pandemic had me worried. It was a constant battle between my desire to take action and my fear of the consequences. I spent countless hours agonizing over whether attending a protest was worth the risk, and my parents' constant worry didn't make it any easier.
Eventually, I couldn’t handle it anymore.
I reached a breaking point and found myself shutting down emotionally and feeling numb to everything.
I realized that I needed to focus on self-care, which meant limiting my exposure to the news and social media, spending more time outdoors, and finding ways to connect with loved ones while still practicing social distancing. While the experience was incredibly challenging, it was also transformational. I discovered my own resilience and the power of community during tough times.
The stress of the 2020 U.S. presidential elections further caused immense anxiety for me, as it did for 68% of US adults, according to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. I remember feeling conflicted during this time, as I blindly followed my family's political beliefs without truly understanding the platforms of the candidates they supported. Even though I couldn't vote back then, I struggled to balance the different political viewpoints within my family, making me feel confused and frustrated. It was during this period that I realized the significance of forming my own individual opinions on political matters.
I struggled until I sought support from Black Girls Smile. Through one-on-one sessions and weekly group meetings, I found my safe space where I could discuss issues and experiences with others who shared my feelings. The support I received was a place of solace and somewhere to express myself freely when I encountered stress from activism and elections.
I have also found that practicing mindfulness and meditation through resources such as Calm and Headspace has been greatly beneficial for my mental health. These tools have helped me manage my stress and maintain a calm demeanor, which ultimately allows me to be a better activist. I believe that it is important for everyone to identify their own sources of peace and make time to practice them, even if it is only occasionally. Mental health should always be honored, even in the midst of busy schedules and life’s various challenges.
Self-care is not a selfish act, but rather a necessary one to fully engage in activism and civic participation.
We cannot effectively contribute to causes we believe in if we are not taking care of ourselves first. The two people who remind me of this almost every day are my mother and my sister. They have always been strong advocates for self-care as well. They remind me that taking time for myself is not only important, but necessary in order to be fully present and engaged in the world around me. Without their unwavering support and encouragement, I'm not sure where I would be today. Whether it's a phone call just to check in or a much-needed girls night out, they always find a way to lift me up and remind me how important self-care truly is. And with their help, I know I can continue to make a difference in the world while also taking care of myself.
Acknowledging our reactions and responses to stressful situations is an important tool to manage our mental health. Taking breaks, showing self-compassion, and surrounding ourselves with supportive friends are all key factors in maintaining good mental health. We must recognize that our involvement in activism is a reflection of our care for our communities and country, and we should treat ourselves accordingly by caring for ourselves and reaching out for help when needed.