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November 30, 2015
By: Luis Gay
When you give a college student a marker, a blank piece of paper, and an opportunity to express what is going on in their lives, the results may be solemn:
"Drug addiction runs in my family and tore it apart. I never felt like I was good enough and hated myself."
"I have struggled with depression and anxiety since middle school. My mother doesn't believe depression is a disorder. She thinks if I work hard enough and if I was positive enough, it would go away."
These are a couple answers from a new mental-health campaign in Orange County called “This Is My Story”. This campaign allows young people, particularly college students, to anonymously share their fears, secrets, experiences, and traumas that affect their mental health to the public by writing on a 6-foot-high cork board toted on local college campuses and community events. This initiative revolves around the fact that half of all chronic mental illness begins at the age of 14, three-quarters by the age of 24. Experts stated that the first episodes of mental illness often occur after teens and young adults leave home for college. Their hormones are changing, plus they are stressed in being in an unfamiliar environment, and are under pressure academically and emotionally.
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“This Is My Story” was launched at the beginning of the current fall semester and will continue for at least six more months. The goal of the campaign is to create conversation and reduce the stigma of seeking help or acknowledging if one has a mental health problem. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs—who launched a mental health commission in 2013, the drive for this campaign— stated that many people believe that mental illness is a disease for adults, however it is very prevalent in young people as well. She believes by raising awareness and getting parents, counselors, and kids to reach out for help, it can change the whole trajectory of a young person’s life. Mayor Jacobs has a personal connection when it comes to the trials and tribulations of mental illness. She lost her brother to suicide as a result of bipolar disorder. It happened right after she was sworn into office in 2011. Her brother became increasingly distant when he developed mood swings in his 20’s. MayorJacobs reflects on how very proud she was of her brother for fighting a life long battle with a ferocious disease, and most of the time single-handedly, however that wasn't how he should have done it. She believes that had it not been for a stigma of weakness in having a mental illness or seeking help, he may have gotten treatments a lot sooner.
Sara Isaac, a strategist for the campaign, was surprised by how many people write about suicide and by how many say that they can’t tell their family. This is one reason for anonymity in the campaign. Also, as stories are often shared online at thisismyhistory.us, organizers didn’t want young people to feel like their writing would come back and haunt them in cyberspace by writing their name. David Ballard, the campaign’s ambassador, expresses that mental health experiences are heavy and weigh some people down. People need to get them off their chest, but he noted that some feel like they can’t talk about them. Thus, writing anonymously is the first step, expressing one’s self without societal pressure. Mayor Jacobs emphasizes that this should only be a first step and the following steps should be talks about increasing access to mental health resources.