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What would you tell your teenage self about mental health?

by Jenora Vaswani

Perhaps it’s time to let the voices speak for themselves.

1. Empathy

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“Arrogant. Bigoted. Narrow-minded. I used to think like that – like you.

“We came from a good background, you and I, and everything came easy. Grades, friends and family, three things that the fortunate few of us take for granted and expect to always have.

“We thought that mental illness was a myth, and that it was just lesser individuals being weak. We thought that all that is required to avoid being “mentally ill”, a term we so frequently used in contempt, was a little mental fortitude.

“But dating someone struggling with depression and self-esteem changes all that. I guess what surprised me most was how well they learn to hide it – four months into the relationship and I only had the slightest idea that something was wrong.

“I was her only source of support during the time we were together, and before long I could feel it starting to affect me. While I still regret my decision to this day, I know that walking away before she became too dependent on me was the right choice.

“I know everything I have said up till now seems like a warning, but even if I could go back, I would do it all again.

“So to thirteen year old me, I hope I have not dissuaded you from making the same choices I did, because after everything, I have nothing but gratitude for that wonderful girl.

“And to my first serious girlfriend, it is a shame that you and I fell out of contact. I have always wanted to thank you for giving me a chance, and for proving this ignorant, prideful boy wrong.”


2. Support

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“Sometimes the people who suffer from depression are the people you least expect. You have a friend who always seems so cheerful and content, so you don’t think there’s anything dark beneath the mask. But sometimes there is.

“They show compassion and care, they talk to you with a smile on their face, because they know what it feels like to be in that state of mind and they don’t want anyone else to feel that way.

“So don’t always assume that your cheerful friend is fine. And if they’re not, be there for them. Odds are, they’ll be there for you.”


3. Reaching Out

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“To the 13 year-old girl afraid of the new lows you’ve been hitting,

“I can’t tell you life gets a lot better from here, but I can tell you your ways of coping will. The idea of mental health is something abstract to you now – something they don’t teach you in Biology class – but you’ll slowly realise that it’s always existed, and it will only become more important.

“Don’t disregard what’s hurting you. Don’t fall victim to the myth that people’s struggles magically become valid once they become adults – your feelings are valid as well.

“Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. To be independent is one thing, but to expect yourself to deal with everything on your own is another.”


4. Acceptance

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“A diagnosis does not define you, for better or for worse; mental illness can affect anyone so it’s nothing you need to feel embarrassed about. There is no such thing as being ‘sick enough’ to deserve help and no struggle is too small to be worth talking about. I regret refusing to admit I had a problem because in the end, refusing to seek help only extended my struggle. The stigma surrounding mental disorders can make it difficult to be open about suffering, but being open about suffering is ultimately the only way to break the stigma.”


5. Courage

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6. Strength

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“Remember when you were too scared to visit the counsellor when you broke down in your geography lesson because you thought someone would find out that you were struggling? How could you be struggling when everything about you seemed perfect to onlookers?

“You are NOT weak for asking for help.
You are strong: stronger than you will ever admit.
Hold on just a little longer.
Resist walking into the dark.
Keep trying to reach your goals.
Keep on writing.
Keep on doing what you LOVE.
See the doctors.
See the counsellor.
See anyone who can help you smile.
See yourself grow, and be proud.

“You are not alone. You are
loved. And one day, before
you realise, you will feel
love that will make some
of the pains go away.
They will not fade
completely, but they
will enough so you can
survive. Your life does
matter.
<3″

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