When I was 12 years old, I didn’t know what mental health was. I grew up with a mother who worked in a mental health hospital and constantly came home agitated and stressed out. As I grew older, I began to battle my own mental health issues. From starting a blog at a young age to dealing with a traumatic childhood to taking on a ridiculous amount of responsibility while running a company at 22 years old, mental health has become a crucial part of my life. And not just my mental health, but the mental health of the people around me along with the people I like to think I’m inspiring on a daily basis. I knew from the beginning that unless I was vocal about my experiences I wouldn’t be able to build a brand. Mental health has become a strong focus in my life not only online, but also offline.
Back in 2016, I launched a nonprofit called Media Impact and Navigation for Teens, a company geared towards bringing a sense of edginess and honesty to schools. Instead of educating young people about the dangers of alcohol and drugs (like the D.A.R.E. program), I knew that there was something deeper to discuss about mental health. Let’s face it, 90% of high school students are not trying heroin. They’re trying Instagram and Tik Tok. I remember the first talk we presented in Boston where we spoke to a group of fifth- through 12th-graders on the dangers of cutting, sexting, and bullying. Instead of lightly touching on these topics (I was never going to lead with “You’re going to be OK, just deal with it”), I knew that I had to share my own personal experiences with suicide and depression to encourage kids to talk. Luckily, I was confident enough in myself to know that people would open up after hearing my experiences. I only ever spoke from a place of relatability. After all, I was their peer — even if I never finished high school.
After I brought up cutting, I glanced up to see the second row of girls put their heads down like a domino effect. I looked at my business partner at the time and we instantly opened both of our eyes. We knew we were on to something. Unfortunately, the response from schools wasn’t as hopeful as the students. Schools were afraid to touch on these topics, parents had no clue what cutting and sexting meant, and we frequently got yelled at after presenting talks because faculty seemed to think that 9th-grade girls and boys had never watched porn or seen a naked girl on Instagram before.
I’ve seen mental health trends come and go since I began blogging in 2011. I don’t enjoy using the word “trend,” per se, but I do notice that people use the topic of mental health to gain notoriety. You may be thinking “Well, isn’t talking about mental health at all better than not talking about it?” and it is, but you should never yearn to deal with anxiety or depression because your peers or friends do. Having anxiety isn’t cool (though you can totally make it cool) and it affects 18.1% of the population every year. The talks certainly got easier to present with less yelling to follow after the first talk. But the discussions only got deeper and more raw, and the responses only became more intense. I attributed that to the growing use of social media among young people, and I was right.
I began battling depression when I was 16, and I remember the day clearly. When young people ask me how I cope with my anxiety, I often times find myself telling them I don’t. I have days where I sit and I cry because I feel like I’ll never be successful, because I’ll never be able to give back to the kids who have inspired me so deeply, or simply to my parents who have been through so much with me when they had so little to begin with. The highs and lows that come with running a company make my depression and anxiety even more severe so much so that I still find myself thinking it may be easier if I just ended it all. You have to find enough passion in yourself to believe in your purpose. Imposter syndrome is another story, but that too goes hand in hand with mental health.
My advice for you whether you deal with mental health issues of your own or not is to forever stay educated about the growing world of mental health. By not being aware of depression, anxiety or even suicide, you only prevent yourself from being able to help someone who you cross paths with that may be in need one day. For those of you dealing with your own mental health situations like myself, stop calling them mental health problems. The only factor here that’s a problem is you not being proud of dealing with anything relating to mental health. I may not be as successful of an entrepreneur at 22 if I didn’t have anxiety or depression, would I be?