Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to speak to about 700 high school kids at Arthur L. Johnson High School. What a gift I was given to help shape their young minds and alter their relationship to mental illness through sharing my story. It was as terrifying as it was wonderful. A dear mentor of mine once said to me, “Just share your heart with them Michelle”. So that is what I did. (Thanks Koshy!)
As each grade piled into the auditorium, my palms got a little sweaty. I opened my session by sharing this ‘hip’ high school photo (sorry Robyn and Tiffany) which was taken on the steps of Westfield high school. Then, I told them my story.
“How many of you have been impacted in some way by mental illness?” Most of the auditorium raised their hands. “Looking around we can see that so many of us are impacted. Yet, isn’t it silly that we don’t talk about it?”
I went on to share. “When I was young, I had to care for my mom who suffered from bipolar disorder. And, I was embarrassed and did my best to keep it a secret. I was afraid of being judged by my classmates.”
“Why is there so much shame and fear around mental illness when the brain is really just another organ?” Sometimes, just like any other organ we need to get that organ extra support. And, it is okay! That was when something magical happened. The auditorium got totally quiet. Nobody was talking but me. That was when I knew they were listening.
My goal was to empower them around their own mental well being and remind them to look out for each other in their school community. Recently, the school had suffered a loss of their own student to suicide. So many of them were still hurting and trying to heal from such a tragic loss. If I could leave them in a better place in honor of Maureen’s life and prevent a future suicide, that was what I was out to accomplish.
With that, I shared Michelle’s Five Messages and 3 Tools:
- Just. Be. Kind. We NEVER really know what others are dealing with.
- Talking and sharing really helps. Surround yourself with supportive friends where you can just be yourself.
- Nobody is better at being you than you. Celebrate your greatness. Reflect on what makes you amazing!
- Stand up for your own well-being. Raise your hand when you need help. And, always have each other’s backs! Speak up for a friend if you think they need help. It is okay to lose the friendship to save the friend.
- Adversity will happen. It will help shape you and make you stronger. Life is always happening for us. If I can overcome my adversity, so can you!
- Caring Contact in Westfield 908-232-2880 Hotline
- 18percent Mental Health Virtual Community – https://18percent.org/
- Active Minds – https://www.activeminds.org/
My final point was about the incredible importance of talking or communicating with someone. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your parents or teachers, talk to your friends. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friends, find another outlet like the hotline at Caring Contact or the 18percent app. But above all, keep talking and communicating in some way. We get into danger when we resort to isolation and try to navigate it all alone.
My heart is full from this experience and I am on a mission to cause more conversations that matter with our young people at the high school level. Invite me to talk to your youth! I am committed to making a real difference with them – one powerful conversation at a time!