“Sometimes laughing and crying are the only options left, and laughing feels better right now.” - Veronica Roth, Divergent Series 2013.
I remember when I read the above quote for the first time. At that point in time, I didn’t realize how closely related it would be to my life. Not many people really realize that quotes like this could relate to their mental health. I find that many people, both young and old, are scared to talk about mental health, and I don’t like that. Why is mental health such a scary topic? How has mental health become such a negative and restricted topic?
What do you think of when I say mental health? I asked some of my peers the same question and got answers like, ‘depression, unhappiness, sadness, how you are in your mind.’ The common theme was sadness alongside scary and dark topics when, really, those things are only a part of what mental health really is. Happiness and joy are just as much a part of mental health as sorrow and anger. Today, humans hang on to emotions and sometimes don’t realize we have twisted many emotions into one ball, we then don’t know how to express these emotions. This isn’t good for our mental health.
I developed a passion for the topic of mental health shortly after seventh grade. The year of 2015 was very rough for me. I experienced some events that changed my life forever. It was like any other year…well, minus the fact that my best friend would no longer be attending school. This girl and I were ‘attached at the hip’ for approximately 5 years but then her family decided to move back to their homeland of the Netherlands. That was tough on me. I was so used to being able to talk to her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It was strange to now only have 3 hours a day, two days a week at most. It was quite the adjustment. That first day without her was terrifying. I had to go back to the basics and relearn how to make friends. Doesn’t seem that hard right? Think again. When you make friends it’s generally when you’re in grade one and because you both like the same colour. Now I had to find a way to work myself into an already tightly knit group of people. It was quite the adventure, and I’m going to take you on it.
That year, it felt as if the world was against me. I didn’t have any success with making friends, my soccer team was a disaster, my favourite band was breaking up, and school became a pain. My class was loud and unfocused. Every day my mental health went down and nobody noticed enough to help. I myself didn’t even realize what I was going through. I wasn’t a happy person. I rarely smiled, I stopped trying to talk to people, and I isolated myself without noticing. I didn’t know that I was experiencing negative mental health symptoms. I wasn’t a little kid. I should have been able to learn about what I was going through, at this point in my life I should’ve been exposed to what positive and what negative mental health looked like. Then I would have known how to and where to find help.
I found that people from school, dance, soccer, and everywhere were all saying the same thing, ‘you look sad’. It wasn’t a question. I knew that the person saying this to me wasn’t looking for an answer; they wanted me to say I was fine and reassure themselves that everything was fine. This was one of the events that made me take a good hard look at my life. Why did I keep getting told that I’m sad? That’s when I decided that I was going to sign up to be in a video that was about youth in my community. I thought that this would simply show people that I’m not sad. This started me on my journey to a positive mental health.
The video turned out really well. While I waited for the release, I started working on my social skills and began talking to a girl in my class. I was surprised at the difference one person could make; she inspired me to start researching mental health. She helped me discover that conversation is the best cure. In addition, throughout that summer, I really started opening up to my cousin. I told her about everything, sometimes the words I was saying didn’t even make sense, but she listened. I laid all my emotions on the table, took a good look at them and my cousin helped me sort them all out. That’s when I really turned my mental health around. I was happier, I smiled more, and was even laughing along with some people. The forced conversation set me on the expedition of trying to climb out of the hole I had dug and put myself in.
The new school year started and the video release day had finally come. The plan was to watch the film, followed by questions for the panel. I was lucky enough to be a part of that panel. Nearing the end, my Dad asked a question, “What is your next step? Is this just a one-time thing or are you going to keep building on this?” This stumped our panel. Nobody gave a clear answer. This got me thinking, what should I do next?
I wanted to get people talking about mental health. So I decided that I wanted to do a panel discussion and presentation at my school. It was a lot of work, and I was told by some people not to try. Despite this, a community worker at my school was willing to help me. Within a month, the whole presentation was planned and ready to go.
It was pretty funny to watch my parent’s expressions when I told them what I was doing. My Dad was shocked that I actually answered his question with an action. I was nervous, I’m not going to lie. It was scary to think I’d be talking in front of 200 students about something that most of them didn’t really care about. I also had people like our superintendent of the schools, and our MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) there as well.
The panel went very well. It sparked the conversation in my school; just as planned. I was happy. I was given the opportunity to take my presentation to two other schools near me. I get to keep the conversation going and spread the word to more people, that’s all I could ask for.
I don’t want the two schools to be where the conversation stops. Mental health should be talked about anywhere. Someone who takes a leave of absence because of a mental health problem should not be treated differently than a person needing to leave because of a broken bone or physical health problem; because mental health and physical health aren’t all that different. If you notice someone who seems sad or not like themselves, ask them how they are and really listen. Don’t tell them they look sad. They probably already know that and if they were anything like me, they don’t want to hear that from you.
I request that you help me change how we view mental health. If you’re more interested in mental health or some specific topics regarding mental health, do some research about it! You can become a mental health expert. Or even take it a step further and plan your own panel discussion within your school or community? Or maybe you have your own idea on how you can spark the change?
I encourage you to do anything you can to help because I don’t want a spark of change, I want a fire, because if it isn’t us taking action; who’s going to? Change the face of mental health and you will change the lives of many. Take action. Inspire others. Be the change.
“It always seems impossible til it’s done.”
And just remember what Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it”.
J'lyn is thirteen and lives in Canada. She is an advocate for a positive and proactive approach to mental health and hopes that other young people around the world will be inspired to talk more about it.
We are looking for young people, schools and teachers who are interested in running student-led mental health panels of their own. Email us at [email protected] to find out how to get involved.