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At 13 years old, Diana Chao was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and uveitis, an eye disorder that triggered blindness. She consequently grappled with her medical diagnoses, but as a low-income first-generation Chinese immigrant, there were few mental health resources available to her. After surviving a series of suicide attempts, she turned to writing – and in so doing, discovered her own voice. As a sophomore in high school, Diana founded Letters to Strangers, a non-profit seeking to destigmatize mental illness and increase access to affordable, quality treatment through therapy-informed anonymous letter exchanges and other pathways. As suicide rates among young people skyrocket (by 60%), L2S establishes a youth-for-youth voice, normalizing empathy through stories and advocating for broader societal change. To date, the program has touched 35,000+ people across six continents via a team formed entirely of middle school to college-aged youth. L2S additionally facilitates mental health workshops to 2,000 students every year, educating thousands more online. In recent months, L2S launched a guidebook which has been purchased by schools around the world as potential curriculum material. By channeling her own tragedy into a conduit for strength, Diana touched thousands of young lives and generated real change, showing the world that all lives are valuable and worthwhile.
Each and every one of us deserves a chance to live and live right—being a L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth is testament to that. Our stories have power; within them reside infinite worth. Let’s promise this to ourselves and our progeny by committing to the ceaseless fight forward.
Letters to Strangers: destigmatizes mental illness and increases access to affordable, quality mental healthcare through therapy-informed anonymous letter exchanges, science-driven peer education and grassroots policy-based advocacy
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