Let’s Talk About Mental Health

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“The key to beginning is self acceptance. You must accept yourself because you were born as you and nothing can change that.”

One of my close friends lost his life after a battle with mental illness. The first thing his family did was post to social media to raise awareness about checking with those closest to you and having open conversations. Today, his family operates an organization in his memory to educate both victims and survivors.

Regardless of how awareness is spread, almost every person I have talked to who has lived through various traumas tells me they wished there had been a greater understanding and consciousness about the topic of mental health.

Mental health is something almost never talked about but paramount to each of our lives, our success, and our happiness. But why is it that we don’t talk about it?

Physical health is something our society can talk about  endlessly, even with perfect strangers. I have seen it time and time again. Imagine a student walking through the hallway of a busy, crowded high school. Almost everyone will notice when someone has a broken arm. Some others may ask what happened or, because of their own shyness, offer a simple smile in sympathy.

But what about that person living with mental illness? The word “mental” itself may scare someone off, as they associate its meaning with “crazy” or “disordered.” Mental, in a basic sense, may simply just mean “different” in some way or another. But what is really so different from a student walking with a limp and one with tears streaming down her face or even just the classmate who seems a little “off?”

Is it that we cannot truly know what is going on beneath the surface that scares us? Is it the unknown? Why can’t we just ask? Fear of being kept in the dark? Or is it the fear of “catching” it? Whatever the reason is, one thing is becoming more and more clear: the times are changing.

People are talking, and it is up to each individual to join the conversation.

Schools, or any other organization, should not shy away from spreading awareness about the topic of mental health. It is real, and it affects more people than many of us may realize. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 people in the world will be affected by a mental disorder, and even now about 35-50% of people globally living with mental illness don’t get help. I join many others in hoping to soon join a world that will be able to have an open conversation about mental health.

Those who have joined the conversation are pioneers, waiting for others to catch on. I believe we like to make excuses as to why we don’t talk about it. Some will say it is simply not appropriate. Others will say it is triggering for those who have lived through the trauma and those who have lost loved ones due to mental illness. I am here to challenge that argument. I have spoken to many close friends about those very feelings. The fear of talking is what stagnates the process of hopefully one day changing our approach to mental illness.

I was especially proud of the initiative our school showed last semester at the dTHS Mental Health Fair. I finally felt a part of a community where many of the issues I have been so passionate about for a long time could be expressed more openly, to educate an entire population of young people like myself who will carry some of the passion from that event forward and create a more fluid conversation.

To learn more about what is being done to create that movement outside of my own community, I contacted one organization that hopes to ultimately “shatter the stigmas surrounding mental health challenges and suicide.” UMATTER, an organization operated within Friendship Circle and led by Teen Director Rabbi Yarden Blumstein in West Bloomfield Township, Mich.,  is an example of one of these progressive programs. Friendship Circle recognized a need for larger discussions about mental health and created an advisory board composed of eager teenagers to work on projects to further the conversation and create inclusion.

Each year since its establishment, UMATTER holds an event called “One Thing I Wish You Knew” to highlight four to five brave teens who share their stories and their struggles with mental illness and how they have overcome the adversity they have encountered.

I am very fortunate to have grown up with one of these extraordinary individuals who shares her experience living with an undiagnosed learning disability and struggles with mental illness. She highlights her own battle and how she has learned to accept herself as she is as well as how she has dealt with the criticism and bullying she has faced both throughout her struggles and throughout her journey toward healing.

This strong individual, who I will keep anonymous, was someone I grew up with at camp and someone I would have never expected to be dealing with these challenges. In her story, she writes: “The key to beginning is self acceptance. You must accept yourself because you were born as you and nothing can change that.”

On the surface, this may seem like a simple solution, but to all those struggling, they know better. She goes on to tell society that each person was born how they are, flawed and imperfect, and it is up to us to break boundaries and portray our real and authentic selves to the world rather than advertising a false sense of happiness on social media.

She writes to her younger self: “You have dealt with demons in your head and doubters surrounding you. And despite it all, here you are–more sure of yourself than ever.” I am so proud to call this girl my friend. She reached a point early on in high school that almost broke her, but today, with a clear purpose in life, she stands up and speaks out for a cause so deeply important to her, for all those who will benefit because of her.

She tells me that the recovery has been the hardest part, as she is a survivor of her own “murderous brain.” She is strong, and she is still recovering.  Realizing her own internal power, she has worked tirelessly to find success.