Confirmed delegate from Canada, Alicia Raimundo on tackling mental health issues with the power of hope.
I know depression. I know it makes getting up in the morning so hard that some days you don’t even bother. I know when you’re depressed you’re followed around by a black cloud of misery. I don’t understand why, but I know if you try to ignore it, the cloud gets heavier, harder and deeper. I know this because I was depressed, and that one night I decided to take my own life. And I wasn’t the only one. According to the World Health Organisation, about half of mental disorders begin before the age of 14. We lose someone to suicide every 40 seconds and a lot more attempt it.
Youth suicides have increased to the point that young people are now the group at highest risk in a third of the world. Yet, regions with the highest percentage of population under the age of 19 have the poorest level of mental health resources. Very few people know these stats. Very few people understand. Because very few voices are heard. And, very few people want to listen.
When I was growing up, people with mental health issues were ‘bad guys’: crazy, selfish, dangerous and suffering from some pathology. This stigmatisation is paralysing. The fear of being called ‘crazy’ is enough to stop a person from seeking help. For me, being called ‘crazy’ by a teacher was the last straw. After years of being miserable and not understanding what was happening to me, I was pushed over the edge.
My life was changed by a fellow client in a treatment centre. One day, she said: “From one crazy person to another, you will need this,” and handed me a necklace with the word ‘hope’ on it. I’ve carried this with me for years: the idea of hope. Hope helped me move to a treatment that worked for me.
When I started to hope, I started to realise that I wasn’t alone. In every conversation about mental health, someone was waiting to say: “Hey, I go through that,” or “I know someone who does.” This is when I realised that mentally ill youth are not weak; we are not “the bad guys.”
We spend our days being friends, sibilings, offspring, workers, lovers and a whole host of other things. We protect our loved ones from the demons that chase us. We aren’t the bad guys…we are fighting them.
Though I am suffering, I am getting up and making real change in the world - even if it’s just one person at a time. Through conversations and action we change minds by showing the world how beautiful, smart and shockingly normal we all are. We aren’t serial killers, overdramatic unachievers, or anything else. We are normal. Realisation in hand, I went out to change the world!
And was almost immediately frustrated.
Most of the organisations I saw making change thought of me as the cute young person who would be absolutely wonderful…at selling t-shirts for them. But not wonderful at getting involved in a discussion about mental health and young people and the real world. That was for grown-ups.
Then one day I got a Facebook friend request saying: “Hey, have you ever heard of mindyourmind?” My life changed from that point. Mindyourmind was the first organisation that heard my voice, that believed in me, a mentally ill girl who had always thought she was not enough.
Now, with more than 100 public talks under my belt, including one at TEDx Waterloo, I have found my voice.
I work to create meaningful change with and for youth. As one of the young ambassadors for AstraZeneca’s Young Health Program (YHP) I engaged youth in a discussion about health. The response was amazing. Youth all over the world wanted their voices to be heard, and while their issues were unique, they were saying the same thing. We aren’t being heard.
Through YHP, we took these voices, the opinions and thoughts of young people, and presented our findings to researchers, policy makers and leaders from around the world at the IAAH World Congress in June. We made sure that the voice of youth was heard. Now this concept of engaging youth in conversation about their health is on the radar. It’s one step towards change. It’s empowering.
My favourite part of all this isn’t about the talks or the trips or the conferences. It’s about helping others. Even if they only ever tell me their story, they are telling someone.