Teen Mental Health Awareness Program to Educate and Encourage Empathy
Have you ever felt like everyone was looking, judging, talking about you? It overwhelms you so much that your heart starts beating fast, you start sweating and feel nauseous? You need to escape, either by leaving or by looking at your phone? When you lay down to go to sleep, do you start thinking about your day, everything you said, what other people said to you, your school work, friendships and what you’re going to do with your life? This thinking turns to worry, and you start sweating and you can’t turn it off or go to sleep? You try watching TV, going on your phone or reading but you can’t turn off these thoughts?
In 7th grade I started Middle School and I started feeling everything above and I didn’t know what to do, how to communicate or who to communicate to. I fell deeper and deeper into a hole and then I started to get sick physically. I got so sick that I couldn’t walk so I couldn’t go to school. Even when I got better physically, my mind was still racing and by now I’d lost most of my friends. They didn’t know what I was going through or what was wrong with me and they turned away. If only they knew, maybe if they reached out and asked me. If only they knew this was anxiety and I couldn’t help feeling the way I feel, would they have been more understanding and compassionate?
By the time High School started, my parents knew I had anxiety and suspected I had depression, but they didn’t know what to do or who to ask. My mom took me to my pediatrician and luckily, he knew what to do. He was firm with my parents because he’d seen this before and had experienced it with his own son. He said, “we need to run some blood test to rule out any medical conditions, but this is depression and it’s bad “. First, he asked me what caused me the most anxiety and I said school because it’s so big and there are so many people. He told my mom, you need to withdraw her from public school and find another way for her to do school or I’m going to hospitalize her. Since I had Social Anxiety first and foremost, he said let’s address this first. This was the best thing that ever happened to me! Someone, an adult, a doctor, understood me, what I was going through and what I needed.
It’s been 3 and a half years and I’ve graduated high school early and started community college. Between therapy, medication, family support and the ability to be able to work from home most of the time gave me the ability to heal and learn how to work with anxiety. It’s a work in progress and I have set backs, but that doesn’t get me down because I know it’s just temporary.
When it came time to start working on My Girl Scout Gold Award Project, which is the highest achievement you can accomplish within the organization. My personal experience inspired me to do something to help teens like me. I decided I wanted to teach teens about anxiety, the symptoms and the different kinds of anxiety, what’s the difference between being anxious and having an anxiety disorder and lastly what you can do to help others and yourself. I created a program called Teen Mental Health Awareness and it is designed for anyone to facilitate with a group. It includes a pre-survey to find out what your group already knows. Then they watch a series of videos, I include talking points for the person administering the program so they can get the group talking about what they saw in the videos. Lastly, they take a post survey to see what they learned and how they liked the program.
I have spent the last few months facilitating with groups of teens from 7th through 12th grade. This was so hard for me since I do still have Social Anxiety. It really pushed me outside my comfort zone, and it was so stressful, but I know I’m better for doing it. I’ve had great responses from my presentations. Kids have stood up and shared their experiences with anxiety and were open and were received openly by their peers. The teachers and adults watching told me that they thought it was great information and helpful to themselves as well as their students. I’m hopeful they will continue to use the program with upcoming classes.
To promote my project, I started Facebook (@teenmentalhealthawareness) and Instagram (@teen.mental.health.awareness) pages and a website (www.teenmentalhealthawareness.com) . These were all new experiences for me because I have not had social media since I realized in 7th grade it wasn’t good for me. I use these to share articles and information about anxiety and other mental health disorders. I have several hundred followers and I hope to increase that by continuing to share valuable information. During the promotion of my project I reached out to The Born This Way Foundation, Lady Gaga established to help destigmatize mental health disorders. Since communicating with the Foundation, they gave me an opportunity to apply for an internship.
My project has taught me so much about anxiety and myself. It also pushed me outside my comfort zone, increased my confidence and opened so many doors. I look forward to continuing to share my program with schools and groups as well as sharing valuable information on my social media pages.