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Interview: Elif Kaya on Her Organisation One Smile Effect and Mental Health Awareness in Turkey

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

Youth for Positive Change talked to Turkish mental-health activist Elif Kaya about her groundbreaking org. One Smile Effect and the state of mental health awareness in Turkey.

Hey Elif! To start, could you give a little bit of insight into who you are and why you decided to start One Smile Effect?

Sure! My name is Elif Kaya and I’m a high school sophomore from Istanbul, Turkey! Apart from being a student, I am also a social entrepreneur, mental health advocate, and the founder of the first and only mental health organization in Turkey, One Smile Effect. I have been involved in numerous youth-led advocacy projects, which have helped me grow as a person and provided me with invaluable insight.

After seeing firsthand the detrimental impact COVID-19 has had on the mental health of young people, I launched my organization, One Smile Effect. Its aim is to help teens feel more connected and emotionally supported during quarantine. Over the past few months, One Smile Effect has evolved, becoming an organization which not only focuses on creating a support outlet for teens but also an accessible resource for mental health awareness.

As you rightly point out, mental health awareness and wellbeing are more important than ever. In your experience, do you feel like Turkey as a whole is open about mental health issues?

Absolutely not, and the fact that One Smile Effect is the first and only organization that focuses on mental health awareness and education proves that mental wellbeing is not valued in my country whatsoever. People in Turkey are not open to having discussions about mental health or well-being with their loved ones - let alone therapists or mental health professionals, which means that mental health conditions often go unresolved and worsen as time goes on. In order for Turkey to have open conversations about mental health, there needs to be a cultural shift in the way we think about mental health issues.

Speaking up about mental health issues can be nerve-wracking. What tips would you give to teens who feel scared to open up to their loved ones?

It can be extremely difficult for someone to open up about what they’re going through, especially when the people around them aren’t encouraging or where there isn’t a safe space to talk about their emotions. I know firsthand the struggle of opening up: when I was going through a particularly tough time in my life, it was hard for me to seek help from my loved ones and be open about what I was going through: I was hopeless, and felt that if I expressed what I was feeling I would be a burden to those around me.

My story about seeking help is rather an unconventional one. While I didn’t feel comfortable talking, I used my writing as a way to express how I was feeling. As weird as it may sound, my way of opening up was through writing a long message to my parents explaining what I was going through. After seeing that they were supportive, I gradually started to feel more comfortable sharing my emotions, problems, etc., and started talking about them more openly. I vividly remember feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

The main takeaway from my story is that you don’t have to go through a tough time all by yourself. You deserve to have someone who listens to you and supports you along the way. Whether it’s your parents, friends, cousins, or a stranger on the internet – whoever it may be – there is always at least one person who will help you.

What initiatives does One Smile Effect have planned for the future?

To reach our goal of increasing mental health literacy among youth, creating an outlet for teens to have a conversation about mental health, and providing accessible resources. We are also excited to start our project entitled “Break the Barriers” this December! Break the Barriers is an online mental health program for high school students which will include a tailored mental health curriculum that we have created for schools/orgs as well as establishing a supportive community of teens where they can discuss mental health.

Finally, how can those interested get involved with One Smile Effect?

Those interested can apply to be a part of our team via the application form on our website, however, it’s unlikely that we will accept new members since the regular application period is over. That said, anyone can become a One Smile Effect ambassador by contacting us on Instagram or enquiring through our website!


BIOGRAPHY: Elif Kaya is a 16-year-old high school sophomore from Istanbul, Turkey. Besides being a student, she is a social entrepreneur, mental health advocate, and the founder of the first and only mental health organization in Turkey, One Smile Effect.

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