Diana Chao: Changing the World for Mental Health

by Jennifer Yoshikoshi from United States

151807Diana Chao Speaking for the National Alliance on Mental IllnessDiana ChaoWith the simple but heartfelt idea of writing letters, Diana Chao created a non-profit that aimed to destigmatize mental health for youth worldwide. Letters to Strangers, also L2S, was founded by Chao in 2013 when she was a sophomore in high school struggling with her own mental health. This organization opened a channel for the global youth to connect with each other through anonymous letters, hearing about each other's experiences. 


At the age of 13-years-old, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and almost took her own life. She wrote letters as a way to express her inner battles but they weren’t written for anyone in particular to read. Chao immigrated to the United States from Guizhou, China at the age of nine and moved into a predominantly white community in Southern California. As a child immigrant, she struggled with connecting to her culture and heritage being surrounded by unfamiliar faces and lifestyles. She also fought battles with her own cultural stigma around talking about mental illness as well as dealing with poverty and immigration. 


Letters to Strangers created a community that embraced empathy within young people and unified them through the sharing of personal thoughts and stories. Through letters, people were able to open up and be vulnerable, offering authenticity to others who might be feeling alone. Chao encouraged unity within a community that often felt isolated by their individual struggles. 


Since its foundation, Letters to Strangers has expanded to over six continents, reaching over 150,000 people across the world. An organization that started in one public high school can be found in hundreds more across the seas. Chao has inspired a new generation of youth to have open conversations on mental health, slowly erasing the existing shame and embarrassment of mental health discussions. The organization has not only created avenues for self expression but has also grown to facilitate mental health education in schools and to advocate for change in mental health policies.

151808Example of a Letters to Stranger letterDiana Chao 

With the impact that Letters to Strangers has made internationally, Chao has been awarded for her mental health activism with multiple awards and acknowledgements. Over the years she has been honored as a Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leader,  Oprah Magazine's 2019 Health Hero, the only American to be awarded the 2019 Global Changemakers cohort, and 2020 L'Oreal Paris Woman of Worth, just to name a few. 


Aside from creating the world’s largest mental health non-profit, Chao is also a talented photographer and scholarly graduate of Princeton University. Diana Chao has dedicated so much of her time and energy in various mediums of art, writing, and academics, inspiring people in not only mental health advocacy but also in self-expression and academic excellence.


Page created on 5/15/2023 1:30:49 AM

Last edited 5/15/2023 3:35:16 PM

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Related Links

Moonglass Studios - A portfolio link to Diana Chao's photography
Letter to Strangers - More information on Letters to Strangers


, . Diana Chao FOUNDER OF LETTERS TO STRANGERS (L2S). [Online] Available


O'Shaughnessy, Lauren. Diana Chao is Taking Youth Advocacy to a New Level The Letters to Strangers founder is fostering pee. [Online] Available