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Uninvisible Pod with Lauren Freedman

Aug 12, 2020

TW: This episode includes mention of suicidal ideation and behavior, as well as discussion of a suicide attempt that the guest survived.

Diana Chao is a 21-year-old first-generation Chinese-American immigrant from southern California. During her sophomore year of high school, bipolar disorder nearly ended her life…and inspired her to create non-profit Letters To Strangers (L2S), which uses the healing power of the written word to create awareness of mental health and illness, and spread comfort as “humanity distilled into ink”. Today, L2S is the largest global youth-for-youth mental health nonprofit, impacting over 35,000 people on six continents. For this effort, Diana has been named Oprah Magazine's 2019 Health Hero, the youngest winner of the Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Award, and the only American winner of the 2019 Global Changemakers cohort. As part of Adobe's inaugural class of global Top Talents, Diana seeks to further the intersection of creativity and social impact through conceptual photography. Her Minority Mental Health Month self-portrait series went viral with 2+ million views, and she gives workshops and speeches on youth mental health.  She’s also a 2020 recipient of the Diana Award, named for Princess Diana and honoring youth changing the world. But most of the time, she is a third-year at Princeton University trying to wake up for class on time. And, as you will soon learn: an absolute delight.


Tune in as Diana shares:

  • that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 13
  • that she struggled to validate both her disorder and diagnosis
  • how culture — and the immigrant experience — has played into her experience of mental health support and awareness
  • that she has also been diagnosed with autoimmune eye disease anterior uveitis, which causes temporary blindness
  • that anterior uveitis was her way in to increased medical care, and gave her access to a psychiatrist — which played a huge role in her access to ongoing mental health care
  • that her brother found her during her last suicide attempt, and her honor and love of him helped shift her perspective on her self-worth
  • that writing and connecting has been healing for her — which is why she founded L2S
  • that L2S started as a student club during her sophomore year at high school
  • that L2S is as much about connecting the community as it is about changing access to and integration of mental health support services in schools around the world, destigmatizing conversations about mental health and illness
  • that she’s been episode-free for the past 2 years
  • that over 80% of mental health practitioners in the US identify as white — which causes difficulties in treating patients with diverse backgrounds who don’t necessarily feel fully understood
  • that in the mental health DSM, culture-bound symptoms are mostly included only in the appendix
  • that L2S is also creating inroads for young people of color to pursue careers in mental health care
  • that — understandably — she got into a depression spiral during quarantine for COVID-19
  • why the basic concept of self-care comes from a place of privilege