Spreading Mental Health Awareness: One Teen at a Time

some things take time

I wish I would’ve known about mental health conditions when I was a teenager. If I had, I may have told someone about my frightening and strange panic attack symptoms. I could’ve received medical help much earlier than I did.

But I was embarrassed and didn’t want to be different. To me, it wasn’t an option to tell anyone. I dealt with it in silence for 20 years.

That’s the main reason I’m so passionate about speaking to youth about mental health. I want them to know that it’s okay not to be okay. Mental illness doesn’t mean you’re weak. You shouldn’t feel ashamed. It isn’t anyone’s fault. There is help available. You are not alone.

I volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as a speaker for “Ending the Silence,” an in-school mental health awareness program. Yesterday I presented to about 70 high school seniors.

During the presentations, my co-presenter and I explain the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk openly about anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, bipolar, eating disorders, and suicide.

Yesterday I told the teens that when my doctor first diagnosed me with panic disorder and agoraphobia, I was actually happy. Not happy that I had it, but relieved that I finally knew what it was.

There’s an actual name for my terrifying symptoms!? Other people feel like this? (Yes, millions!) And there’s treatment for me? (YES!!)

It felt like I was validated. Those awful panic sensations I’d hidden for so long were REAL. I had a disorder in the brain and needed treatment. It wasn’t possible for me to “get over it” or “just calm down,”  phrases I often reprimanded myself with.

That was the first step in my recovery.

Have patience with yourself. No one is perfect!

When I present “Ending the Silence,” I keep in mind that I never know who I’m going to reach. But there are kids who need to be hearing what I have to say.

Yesterday after the presentation, several teens came up to my co-presenter and me. One student said her younger brother attempted suicide last year and she’s having a hard time with it. Another girl said her boyfriend gets panic attacks and she wants to know how to help him. She said his family doesn’t want to admit he has a mental health condition. The teens thanked us for listening and giving our input. Even though they still didn’t have a clear-cut path to fix their problems, they said it felt good to let it out and talk to someone who understands.

Which brings me back to the point… you never know what people are going through.

When I speak to the students and look out into the sea of faces, I often wonder what they’re thinking. And who I’m reaching that day. I’ll never really know.

But all I can do is keep trying.

End the Silence.

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers - Buddha Doodles

First image courtesy of here

Second image courtesy of here

Third image courtesy of here

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32 thoughts on “Spreading Mental Health Awareness: One Teen at a Time

  1. Pingback: Spreading Mental Health Awareness: One Teen at a Time — Peace from Panic – Looking For The Light

  2. I wish there would have been someone like you when I was young. I might have gotten help much earlier. Thanks for your work with teenagers. I believe we often reach many more than we are aware of because not all are ready to share with someone else but it still helps them 🙋

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was just talking to my counselor about this earlier today. When I was a teen the attitude towards mental illness was so different. It’s hard not to spend time thinking about what might have been if we knew then what we know now about mental health. I feel like I would have gained a few good years of my life. Thank goodness you are out there helping to educate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your nice comment! I feel the exact same way. Honestly, I hadn’t even heard the term mental health when I was a teen. No one talked about it at all. I definitely think I would’ve gotten help earlier, had I known it was something that could be treated. I’m so glad mental health/illness is now not such a taboo subject. Thanks again for your kind words. 🙂

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  4. Yes, yes! Validation is so important. I know exactly what you mean about feeling like a weight has been lifted off you after getting a diagnosis. You feel like you’re not alone anymore, which is why it’s so important that young people seek out help for their mental health. It’s not our fault that we’re struggling, and there is help out there. As somebody who struggles with an eating disorder amongst other mental illnesses, I’m so happy to hear that you’re raising awareness and starting conversations about these types of mental disorders. I’m trying to raise awareness through my new blog (blurrythought.com) as well, so thank you for inspiring me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the nice comment! Sorry to hear you have mental health struggles. But it’s great you’re speaking out about it and writing about mental health on your blog. That’s huge in helping people, so they don’t feel alone. Plus, writing can help you too… for me it’s therapeutic. Thanks for visiting here and I’m going to check out your blog and follow. It’s great to connect with you! Jenny

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much! I definitely agree about writing being therapeutic. It’s a great way of actually getting your voice heard and sharing your feelings without feeling judged. It’s lovely to connect to you too!

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