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A Conversation with Heidi Lee, MPP Student & Mental Health Activist

Name: Heidi Lee

Program: Master of Public Policy

Tell us about yourself.
After earning my Master of Education, I became a teacher for 15+ amazing years. Now, I work with populations who manage the traumas of homelessness, substance use, and mental health challenges. The transition into my current role stemmed from my own journey with mental health and a learning disability. Both roles have taught me the value of allowing pain and obstacles to become my greatest teachers of resiliency, empathy, and advocacy for those least heard and seen in our society. 

Why Public Policy? 
My experience working with case management, housing, and healthcare required advocacy skills to navigate a complex network of systems that do not often work to benefit the clients/patients. As I initiated dialogue with various grassroots leaders and organizations, I decided that I needed to take the top-down as well as bottom-up approach for change – this is why I decided to pursue a degree in public policy.

Why the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs? 
Paulo Freire’s words sum up why the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs’ interdisciplinary program is worth investing in: “Critical reflection on practice is a requirement of the relationship between theory and praxis. Otherwise theory becomes simply “blah, blah, blah,” and practice, pure activism.”

How and why would you encourage students to make the most of their time here? 
I am a late bloomer. When I was in college in my late teens, I wished I had the option to consider a more hands-on, less academic approach to life-learning. As someone who battles with dyslexia, I didn’t understand my full intellectual or leadership capacity as I nearly drowned in academia. As a visual-spatial, kinesthetic learner, it wasn’t until I was in my Master of Education program that I understood the value of Dr. Howard Gardner‘s research on multiple intelligences. 

Higher education is too expensive to commit to if you don’t plan on maximizing the journey. Working towards my second master’s degree is an immense privilege that I do not take lightly. It means that I have a greater chance of participating in bending the “ark of the moral universe” towards justice.

Are you involved in any on or off-campus organizations? 
I am a working mom who is heavily involved with social and racial equity and mental health advocacy.

Recently, I’ve begun working with the Samaritans to create more culturally competent approaches to their suicide prevention work. I also work closely with Asian Women for Health, a peer-led, community-based network dedicated to advancing Asian women’s health and wellness through education, advocacy, and support.

In addition, I am a task force member for the Wu Administration’s Mental Health Crisis Response community-led initiative, a member of and speaker for the National Alliance for Mental Illness, and on the steering committee for the National Asian American Pacific Islander Empowerment Network, a network that brings together and supports Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders who have lived experience with mental health issues.

Any interesting research you’re working on? 
I am taking a break from intensive research but the topics that are at the heart of what gets me up every morning include:

  • Mental health peer support
  • Innovative approaches to understanding and treating substance use disorder and its relationship to trauma
  • Alternative methods to perceiving the human mind’s vulnerabilities and capacity for resilience

What do you love about Boston?
Boston has its charm. As a Yelp elite, I love discovering new hole-in-the-wall restaurants in our city and the surrounding areas. The pandemic has hit small family-owned restaurants hard – I feel great honor in providing honest, supportive reviews that reflect the passion, sacrifice, and determination required to sustain a business while maintaining a high standard for that particular culinary art, ambiance, and service. 

I also appreciate the diverse communities, businesses, and institutions that build relationships and work collaboratively when we are at our best.

Any recommendations for fun activities and/or restaurants? 
Where do I begin? My personal favorite activities are: 

  • Apple picking and eating apple cider donuts while basking in the smells of the New England autumn
  • Carpooling with friends to my favorite beach in the North Shore and visiting a local seafood shack
  • Taking in the fullness of the Freedom Trail
  • Running with my buddy along the Esplanade on Saturday dawns
  • Ramen hopping various authentic Japanese Ramen establishments in the Brookline Village area before nabbing ice cream at JP Licks and people watching at Coolidge Corner

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