Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What would you say to you at age 15? Speaking to high school students. Input wanted!

Okay, readers and fellow bloggers, I'm going to ask for your input on this one. I am doing a speaking engagement Thursday, for the Great American Teach-In, where I will be talking about mental health with a fellow member of NAMI, at an alternative school, where many of the students have numerous life problems, some of which are mental health problems. I spoke for this same event at this time last year, and I really enjoyed it.

But I want to make sure I do the best job possible. So here is where you come in. For those of you who struggled in high school, or your adolescence at any point, with any mental health problems, or other challenges such as not fitting in or being seen as popular, or faced discrimination or bullying, I want to be able to give some advice. Last year we talked about mental illness facts, and that suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students, and the third for high school students, in the U.S. - a horrifying fact. And last year, I told my story, which I will be doing again this year.

But if there were a few particular words you could share to encourage young people who might be struggling with their own illness, which may not be diagnosed, or in some cases may already be diagnosed, and the fear that comes with not understanding what is going on with your own mind....what would those words be?

I also want to make clear that all the assaults of "craziness" and "psycho killer" movies in the common language and the media are part of the problem, because stigma does prevent kids from seeking help when they need help, and that is a terrible fact.

I dealt with Major Depression and Anorexia Nervosa, starting in middle school, and throughout high school (until I dropped out the beginning of my senior year), and into my early twenties. I really suffered through a lot of suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and an addiction to cutting for a long time before I ever became psychotic or developed Schizoaffective Disorder. Since most high school students with mental illness are not experiencing psychosis although some will when they get a little older, I will be talking about depression and my eating disorder along with my wild, "crazy" ride through total insanity and psychosis that lasted seven years, undiagnosed.

Do you have any particular thoughts you would like to share with these students? These are kids who are put in this school because they were often expelled from another school in the area, and like any adolescent, they are dealing with the problems and drama of those changing years, along with some poverty, family problems, and in some cases, mental illness. So I want to try to bring some encouragement to them, some advice, some hope, and a glimpse of what recovery can mean, even if you do end up really, really sick.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section with any words you would like to tell the students. If you don't mind, I might even quote you.


  1. I wish I could go back and say to myself at 15 "you are worthwhile and valuable, no matter what other people tell you, and you deserve to be happy. Keep asking for help until someone listens. Life won't always seem as dark and pointless as it does now, there are wonderful experiences and people out there to enrich and change your life." It's so awesome of you to do these kind of speaking engagements Jen, I'm sure the kids get a lot out of hearing your story. Bless you xx

  2. i would tell myself..."it's not your fault. and you are not a failure. if you judge a fish by how well it climbs a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it's a failure."

  3. I would tell them that I so wish I would have spoken up and let someone know how bad it was and asked for help instead of trying to hide it in an attempt to seem normal. I prolonged my suffering by decades. Even back then I so wished someone in a position to get me in therapy and on meds knew, but for that to happen I would have had to open my mouth, and I never did that. If I went back and changed one thing that I had done in the past, I would have made myself speak up. No one can help you if they don't know you are in trouble.

  4. I think it's particularly important for young people who are hurting themselves to know that they are not alone and that they shouldn't be ashamed. While we don't want to normalize this kind of behavior, it's important to know that it is fairly common among people of this age group who are in distress. It's crucial that they do not allow feelings of shame to prevent them from seeking help. There is nothing to be ashamed about: the fact is that they are in pain and coping the best way they know how, and they need help to learn new ways of dealing with the problems they're experiencing. They're not alone, and it does get better.

  5. I didn't suffer from mental illness until middle-age, so I am not sure what I'd say. I know for sure that I would want There imput at some point. I'll bet they could tell you some of what they'd like to hear...but don't. Some of what they wish others would help them with...but they don't quite feel they have the voice to ask...or may not even feel they are entitled to do so. ~Mary


I welcome comments from all readers and encourage you to leave them! Please do. However, due to spam, I review each comment before it can be posted, so it may take 24-48 hours before your comment appears on the blog. Please be patient. I post comments that are not spam.Note: my definition of "spam" includes ALL links to sites claiming to cure or provide "the solution" for incurable diseases such as Schizoaffective Disorder and Schizophrenia. Vulnerable people come to my blog, and I will not let them be preyed upon, but people who post snake oil remedies on the internets. Take your garbage and peddle it elsewhere. Since Blogger doesn't weed all that garbage out, I've been doing it myself for years.