A student at Emory University and a member of the Emory Scholars Class of 2021, Valery Berenshtein hopes to change society’s negative perception on mental health by spreading awareness of and educating about the many mental illnesses that affect the global community. First coming in contact with mental health problems her freshman year of high school, Valery was affected by anorexia and bulimia and was hospitalized during her sophomore year for risk of cardiac arrest and organ failure. She spent seven months in treatment, during which she learned of the grotesque prevalence of eating disorders and the immense stigma and misconceptions associated with them.
At the start of her junior year of high school, Valery made it her goal to spread awareness of eating disorders through organizing informational seminars, teaching an in-school awareness class, speaking at local high schools and community meetings, and starting Need to bEAT. She collaborated with the Bergen County, NJ, department of mental health and took part in the Stigma-Free Initiative to combat the stigma around mental illnesses in her community. In 2017, she became a facilitator for the Embody Love Movement as well as an affiliate of The Body Image Boutique and NAMI Bergen County.
In her senior year of high school, Valery once again was afflicted by mental health problems: depression, social anxiety, suicidal ideations, and eating disorder relapses. After pursuing treatment for these illnesses, she decided to shift her focus from solely advocating for eating disorder awareness to wholly advocating for mental health awareness, with a focus on self-love, self-acceptance and the pursuit of inner -happiness and -peace.
Valery worked with Need to bEAT for two years before going to college, however, through her tenacity, determination and outspokenness, Valery hopes for a more positive and hopeful future for herself and the generations to come.
Lauren Smith is a high school Junior from Bergen County, New Jersey. After years of suffering from an eating disorder, as well as depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder, she began her recovery and dedicated the rest of her high school career to advocating for mental health and helping others through hard times. She joined Need to bEAT in June of 2017 after opening up about her struggles to others; this, of course, was not easy but it was vital to do so. The support that came from Need to bEAT gave her the courage and bravery to start her recovery and be a beacon of hope to others that combat similar opponents.
In the last two years, she has spent a great quantity of her time raising awareness for eating disorders and mental health by attending events throughout Bergen County, some events include the Joan’s Joy Child Safety Fun Fest in 2017, and hosting her own events, such as an Eating Disorder Awareness Benefit Concert in April of 2018, where she raised over $300 for eating disorder research.
Despite her continuous struggles, Lauren continues to work towards her recovery. She also displays her advocacy each day to people near her and on the need to bEAT site, outreaching to those who do not even know her. In order to help others understand that they are never alone, Lauren constantly offers her love and support to people who may be struggling. Help is always out there, and under no circumstances, should anyone suffer in silence.
Lauren is eager to push the Need to bEAT campaign further and inspire others to reach for their own recovery. Recovery is always possible. Being happy and striving for mental stability is not selfish, it is necessary.