Meet the Team: Derek Zhou

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Hi! My name is Derek Zhou, and I’m a senior at Palo Alto High School. In my free time, I like to do theatre, hang out with friends, and work at the local tea shop, Teaspoon.

I’ve always been interested in psychology and human behavior, and I am passionate to pursue advocacy in my community. By joining Stanford’s Center for Youth Mental Health & Wellbeing as part of their Youth Advisory Group, I was able to combine both of my passions in an initiative called headspace, geared toward making mental health services more accessible to youth ages 12-25.

Being a Youth Advisor has been an incredible experience that I’m grateful for. However, I believe that there is so much other work that needs to be done in terms of addressing mental health issues with a more modern lens, which is why I joined the Youth United for Responsible Media Representation team.

Nowadays in the US, it’s practically impossible to avoid the media. TV, movies, the internet, and various forms social media have a big impact on people’s perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes, with younger generations being particularly vulnerable. We must therefore remain cognizant of how much power we actually have in changing not only our perception but other people’s perception of the world around us.

Social media is present in most people’s daily lives, and has both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, you can communicate with people across the world, and have 24/7 access to a huge reserve of information. On the other hand, people now have platforms to express speech that may not always necessarily be positive and beneficial.

Additionally, the industries of entertainment and journalism play a huge role in shaping our experiences and attitudes. Directors, producers, writers and journalists can influence our viewpoints on certain issues, and not everyone has an agenda that is intended to help the audience. This can be particularly harmful when it comes to the portrayal of sensitive subjects such as mental illness and suicide–research shows that irresponsible portrayal of these issues can lead to an increase in suicide rates.

The Youth United team is focused on making sure that mental health issues are being portrayed in a thoughtful way, with an emphasis on encouraging messages of recovery and hope rather than reinforcing the stigma surrounding mental health. Right now, we’re in the process of contacting journalists and directors and engaging them in a dialogue on how to properly cover stories on such topics. In the future, we hope to expand our scope to other industries; for example, I hope to review movies that depict mental health and also use my voice to hold the entertainment industry accountable when they create damaging narratives. I’m excited to join this team because I’ve seen firsthand how big of an impact the media can have, and I know how important it is to speak out about these issues.

Meet the TeamDerek Zhou