Talking Mental Health
By Tatiana Sanchez
Cowell Center Student Ambassador Setareh Harsamizadeh Tehrani ’23 is committed to expanding conversations about mental health. Her mission is personal.
At 16, Setareh Harsamizadeh Tehrani ’23 fought through what she describes as the darkest point in her life. She was frequently overcome with an inexplicable sadness, and things that would make most teens happy—such as hanging out with friends or family—didn’t bring her joy. Social interactions were exhausting. She was never in the moment, and she couldn’t shake the deep sadness that hung over her.
The pressures of being an immigrant in a new country—her family left Iran in 2014—where she struggled to speak English and adapt to a new culture intensified her pain.
Tehrani’s mother suggested she see a therapist, who ultimately diagnosed her with depression. After months of counseling, Tehrani found her purpose again. The experience would shape her professional aspirations and her path to Ohlone College before transferring to SCU.
Tehrani, now a junior, is a Cowell Center Student Ambassador who helps her peers navigate the same mental health struggles and other challenges that she once faced. As a transfer student and LEAD scholar, it’s particularly important to Tehrani to help students with the same background find their footing at SCU. Her primary role as an ambassador is to identify the needs of these students and create programs and events designed to address those needs. To do that, she hosts weekly LEAD and transfer peer groups known as “tea chats” that cover a range of topics, including perfectionist beliefs, stress and burnout and dealing with grief.
She plans to work in a public health-related field after graduation before pursuing a master’s degree in public health.
How did you get involved with working at Cowell?
When I was dealing with my mental health issues, I had very supportive family and friends who encouraged me to go to therapy and I was able to overcome a lot of my challenges. When I went to Ohlone College, I felt compelled to be a support for other students because I know that not everyone has a support system. I joined the student wellness ambassador program at Ohlone and did that for two years. I ended up becoming a statewide student ambassador through the Foundation for California Community Colleges. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to continue that work because I really enjoyed what I was doing.
I’m really glad that I get to continue that mission at SCU and be an advocate for mental health because I truly feel passionate about it. It’s an area that I really care about because I’ve seen what it does to people and how hard it is to deal with. We’re not having enough conversations about it. That’s why I've always been super open about my own experiences, because I think it really matters that people talk about mental health. So many people helped me get through that time in my life and through my work, I’m hoping to do the same for others. I’m really glad that I get to pay it forward.
How did you find your community as a transfer student?
The number one way I’ve built my community is through the LEAD Scholars program. During LEAD week, they put all transfers into three groups and that really helped me find many fellow transfers. I’ve also found my community in the Middle Eastern & North African or MENA club. That has been really nice because I get to meet people who share the same culture but also get to learn about different cultures across the MENA region.
Aside from being a public health major, you were also an Alameda County Mental Health Equity Scholar. Why is studying public health so important to you?
It really aligns with my values because I love that it focuses on social justice and health equity. I’ve seen these factors play out as an immigrant. I’ve had to overcome so many different challenges, like the language barrier, and that has affected me and my family’s health. I still translate for my mom, for example. If I don’t go with her to doctor appointments, she’s not going to understand what the doctor is telling her and that is going to affect her overall health. I’m glad that COVID shed light on the topic of public health and that people are realizing it matters.
What brought you to Santa Clara?
That’s an interesting story. I never thought it would be possible to go to a private school. I was set on going to San Jose State because I wanted to stay close to my family because they really need me. But I thought to expand my options and applied to SCU. I got accepted and ended up getting a lot of scholarship money, so it worked out. I love when a school is small and I get one-on-one connections with my peers and professors. I learn through the conversations that I have with different people. It was the best option for me because the school size is so small and the public health program is really great.
What insight can you share with students who are considering seeking therapy or other mental health treatment?
I’m actually in therapy again. I’m not dealing with depression right now, but it’s great that every two weeks I get to talk about how my life has been. When I go to therapy, I’m usually very tired because I do late night sessions on Zoom. But afterward I feel so happy and energized. I highly recommended it to other students. And if therapy is not what works for them, it’s totally okay. There are different options that they can explore. At SCU we have the tea chats aside from traditional counseling, if that kind of peer-to-peer interaction is what students are looking for.
And if they do go to therapy and it doesn’t work, it’s not that the therapy isn’t working—it’s the therapist that maybe isn’t working. They shouldn’t be afraid to try multiple therapists because it truly is a kind of relationship that you develop and you have to assess them as well.
Mar 28, 2022
Setareh Harsamizadeh Tehrani '23