WHS students take the first step to raise mental illness awareness


Credit: Reva Datar

A group of sophomores in the innovation camp present the website they created, The First Step. The innovation camp was held last summer at WHS. “I originally chose to do it because it sounded like a really interesting opportunity and it was similar to college summer programs, but it was offered for free,” sophomore Samantha Lee said.

Sophia Oppenheim

For most students, the summer offers a break from school, but for students part of the Innovation Camp at WHS, it marks a time full of learning and creation. During the 2022 camp year, four sophomores took their first steps in creating a resource for people struggling with mental health.

The First Step is a student-made website that has links to books, podcasts, music and more to help people struggling with mental illness. Sophomores Samantha Lee, Eunjee Kang, Fiona Wang and Reva Datar are the creators of the website.

“Mental health awareness is really important in today’s society, especially for students,” Kang said. “It’s even more important because we get influenced by so many things, whether it’s the media or the pressure of keeping up with your academics or extracurriculars.”

While creating the website, all four group members worked on researching different mental illnesses while simultaneously working on their own separate parts of the site. Datar recorded a podcast about mental health, Lee worked on graphic design, while Kang and Wang worked mainly on collecting information about mental health.

“Health care is really expensive so we thought it would be a good idea to make something entirely free, but still useful,” Wang said. “There are a lot of things on the website that aren’t part of a typical website. It is a website that is not only to help yourself, but also to realize that you are not the only person struggling.”

After putting together their project, the group presented their fully equipped website to the rest of the innovation camp. The website’s front page shares the group’s missions and introduces each of the group members. Tabs on the website provide a link to their podcast, options for people to learn about various mental disorders and much more.

“I think the most important part about making the website known is to let people know that they are not alone in their struggles and that there are other people out there who are going through similar things,” Lee said. “That was one of the biggest things we wanted to emphasize on the website.”

The website highlights different mental disorders like bipolar disorder and depression explaining what the disorder is, the causes, symptoms and online tests. The website allows people to learn more about mental disorders all in one place while also having access to different treatments accessible through the internet.

“It’s not an official page to go to if you really need help mentally,” Lee said. “There are other resources out there like your guidance counselor, your parents or a trusted adult, this is just one resource to hopefully help you.”

Since the innovation camp took place this summer the group has been able to successfully balance their school work while simultaneously continuing to work on The First Step to make it better.

“It’s still a work in progress and we are always looking to make it better,” Lee said. “We are always looking for recommendations on how to improve it.”

The group has also made multiple efforts to expand the website’s users. They have reached out to Vice Principal Sean Gass and guidance counselor Marybeth Sacramone, hoping they can add the link in a weekly newsletter or help them promote it in any way.

“[The most important part was] to make sure we had the correct audience,” Kang said. “We wanted to make sure this was a safe environment for youth to reach out to. We wanted it to seem more welcoming because it was student-led.”

But it doesn’t stop there, the group hopes that their website can reach people outside of WHS.

“I hope that the website can be used by more people than just at our school, even though it is on the internet it’s not the first thing that pops up when you look up a mental health website,” Wang said. “But I hope it can be more useful for other people.”

To make the website more personal and interactive, the group added in a chat feature allowing anyone accessing the website to come in contact with them directly and instantly.

“I hope students will be able to know that this is a welcoming site and that they can come to it 24/7,” Kang said. “Everything is confidential; it is a safe space.”