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What I Want Teenagers to Know About Mental Health

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A few years ago, I encountered a difficult situation. My teammate who was always a happy hockey player with a good attitude suddenly changed. He wasn’t acting like himself, and some things really began to worry me. He lost interest in the game he used to love, his temper grew short and his actions turned irrational. He started to make dark comments about feeling unhappy and unworthy. He was beginning to be very negative and started to isolate himself from other people. Nothing could cheer him up, not even friends or hockey. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me to leave him alone.

At first I thought he was just having a bad day, but when it continued I noticed it was more than that. My teammate was in mental distress and needed help. I wanted to point him in the right direction but didn’t know what to do, who he should talk to or where he could go to get support. Mental health wasn’t a common topic, and I didn’t know much about it. I had never been in a situation like this before, I felt like I let him down because I didn’t know what I could do to help.

So, I started volunteering at the local mental health office and participating in youth programs to raise awareness of the stigma associated with mental illness. At times it was challenging trying to spread the word and get people involved, but I set small goals so I wouldn’t get discouraged.

Now, I’ve noticed people feel more comfortable opening up and talking about the subject when they know they are not alone. Many people have shared their stories and experiences about themselves, their friends or family. Several of them have suffered in silence because of the stigma. Anyone can have mental health challenges in their lifetime, and it can be very difficult. However it will get easier if you get help. Letting people know you are there to listen, can make a big difference. 

The thing I want all teenagers to know is that there are always resources to help. They don’t have to suffer alone or in silence. If they’re experiencing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide, there is always someone who they can reach out to. It may not be the first person they contact, but reaching out is a great first step. They need to be persistent. Speaking up and ending the stigma is not only important for those seeking help, but for those who are suffering in silence. Listen when someone needs you — you never know if that someone could someday be you.

Originally published: April 19, 2016
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