The Stigma of Mental Illness Through the Eyes of a Teenager

By Chloe Cochran

Senior, Souhegan High School

Mental illness as a whole is an extremely broad topic with strings attached to every open thread of symptoms, cures and the different age groups affected. I am a high school senior compelled to share an unconventional viewpoint of the standards people suffering from mental illness are put up against on a daily basis.

Last year, through Novus Vita Counseling, I met with Dr. Howard Goodman for a six hour one-on-one session of mental exercises to pinpoint the exact diagnosis for my mental state. Novus Vita Counseling is a family owned business, in a well-sized Victorian style home, on the main stretch of Elm Street in Manchester, New Hampshire. Immediately after coming to an end I was presented with a packet explaining the purpose for the entire process, and expanding on each individual task we completed together. I was diagnosed, at the age of 16, with Major Depressive Disorder, Depression Induced Anxiety and a Severe Social Anxiety Disorder. Suddenly I identified with the 1 in the 1 in 5 adolescents that have to hold hands with a different version of themselves everywhere they go. The consistent imagery adapted through commercials of people holding masks over their exterior expressions, became a very real feeling that I felt the true horror of.

Looking for a credible source that could still provide a personal connection, I reached out to Dr. Goodman for a raw definition of his outlook on mental illness after working with such a large diversity of patients. His response: “Mental illnesses are conditions that may affect functional (how one acts) or cognitive (how one thinks) behavioral characteristics.  Behavioral disorders such as depression and anxiety may be infrequent or chronic and affect the individual's ability to socially interact in a way that is generally perceived as typical by others.  Behaviors that are considered as atypical might include hearing voices, crying for no reason, exhibiting extreme defensiveness when such behavior is unjustified by the circumstances, experiencing life-limiting phobias, and more.”  

The last sentence of Dr. Goodman’s response, specifically the word choices of typical and atypical, plays on the fragment of mental illness that I am aiming to debunk, based on opinion, personal experience, and years of personal interest in researching further. I am attempting to utilize both fact and opinion to reach out to more developed generations, parents specifically, to clarify what needs to be recognized while researching further into the stigma of mental illness.

For example, the natural reaction of a concerned parent is attempting to look further into whatever it is they may assume their child is going through. Clicking into a large majority of any search engine, a list of common symptoms or “signs” of mental illness will appear before the eyes of an already frantic reader. The Mayo Clinic, a source certified by HONcode, provides a list that includes: feeling sad or down, withdrawal from friends or activities, and excessive anger, hostility or violence. While I am not attempting to claim these are false accusations concerning every form of mental illness, I believe they are much too broad and can lead to a wrongful self diagnosis in a time of panic of the unknown. Evidently it will continue to vary on the extent of how aggressively each person goes about opening their eyes to the endless research on mental illness, and if they should choose to go to a psychologist for a second opinion. From personal experience, having a one-on-one with a credible professional was the first step towards understanding what I needed to do to improve my quality of life and not label myself as just another statistic.  

While I am choosing to magnify the concern around the scrutiny of research developed around adolescent cognitive health, this is an all inclusive issue that should freely be perceived by all eyes.

I do not believe there is a name, list, or face that you can describe to me in enough detail that can fully capture what mental illness should look like, because it simply fails to exist. Whether I have tears streaming down my cheeks or an annoyingly big smile crowding my face, I can not be compared to or labeled as mentally ill based off of a list of qualities that I’m supposed to have.

Humor me by imagining this scenario: Put twenty people that have the same clinically diagnosed mental illness or disorders in a single room, and find me one pair out of the ten that can describe to you their prior experience or their current situation with even the slightest bit of similarity.

I can guarantee you this would not be a simple or time efficient task, because no two mentally diagnosed subjects of the same disorder, can be compared or wrapped into a summarized version of how their disorder may affect them or their daily life-style.

Mental illness is not what alienates such a large percentage of our society, the labels that society chooses to place upon mental illness is what makes the percentage of us that continue to walk and breathe as humans do, feel alienated from our own skin.

Bill would require teacher training in suicide prevention

By ANGIE BOYNTON, Student Correspondent, Granite State News Collaborative

AMHERST – More than 3,000 U.S. high-school-aged kids attempt suicide every day, on average.

In recent decades, youth suicide has grown to become an epidemic, with statistics showing we lose more teenagers and young adults to suicide than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, strokes, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined. Suicide affects more than just one victim; it affects friends, family, coworkers, classmates and teachers.

Like most things, it is hard to spot mental illness or suicidal behavior if you have no experience or knowledge of the signs and symptoms. Which is why NH House Bill 652, if it becomes law, will require the New Hampshire State Board of Education to mandate annual suicide prevention training for teachers and administrators in public schools.

Read the whole story in The Laconia Daily Sun and then share your thoughts at Citizens Count

A Child's Silent Scream

“You’ve heard the stories about soldiers who come back from war with PTSD. And that’s usually what we think of when we hear ‘PTSD’ But that’s not what I think of. I think of myself. My life story is not what you’d expect from a 16-year-old girl.”

Watch Souhegan High School student Meredith Lyttle short film, “A Child’s Silent Scream,” created in partnership with the Granite State News Collaborative student engagement project.

Souhegan Highlights Mental Health Solutions at Wellness Day

Campfire Sing Along.jpeg

Friday, January 25, 2019 marks the first-ever Souhegan High School Wellness Day. Wellness Day or, #WD2019 is the brainchild of Souegan’s Social Worker Sheelu Joshi Flegal, Dean of Students Kelly Driscoll, and school Psychologist Traci Cote.  

Wellness Day is an entire day which Souhegan will be taking to “talk about finding balance and supporting each other in creating a sense of well-being in our daily lives” The goal of Wellness Day 2019 is to get rid of stigma about mental health and to create an environment in which mental health and self-care are a  prioritization no different from grades or physical health. Students participated in all sorts of activities, ranging from Nordic Skiing, Knitting, meditation, to a singalong complete with s’mores. Read More and watch the student produced video about the event at our partner The SHS Claw, Souhegan’s online Magazine.

Souhegan High School Launches GSNC Pilot Student Project

The stories in this blog are being produced as part of The Granite State News Collaborative’s student journalism training pilot program. GSNC has partnered with Souhegan High School journalists and advisor Adam Theriault to produce a series of stories and engagement events that will dig deeper into solutions proposed to help youth and adolescents with addiction and mental health issues.

The students will contribute original reporting, videos, photos and audio stories to GSNC’s inaugural Granite Solutions project. To do that, they will  spend the next three months not only learning how to be even better journalists, but they will also be presenting material from an angle of the behavioral health crises in New Hampshire that often gets overlooked: what it looks like through the eyes of a young person.

Their stories will be posted here, on Souhegan’s online student magazine The SHS Claw, and on our partner sites throughout the duration of the project.

CAST to Hold Substance Abuse Discussion and NARCAN Training

By Seth Facey

SHS Correspondent

Granite State News Collaborative

Community Action for Safe Teens (CAST) is holding a community conversation on mental health and substance abuse on January 8th from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Boys and Girls Club of Souhegan Valley. A NARCAN training will also be provided to attendees. The community conversation is for 18 to 21 year olds who live in the Souhegan Valley area. 

CAST is working to combat the pressing issue of the opioid crisis and are  “focused on solutions” in solving the problems of addiction.  The young adult listening session will include a dissection and discussion of the data collected from the 2017 Youth Risk and Behavior Survey from 2017 and 2018. The session will “look for root causes and local conditions” in terms of statistics on drug and alcohol use in the Souhegan Valley.

The community conversation is open to young adults who live in the Souehgan Valley area and that are between the ages of 18 to 21 years old. During the forum, there will be time for the community members to share their experiences and thoughts on drugs and alcohol in high school.

Monica Gallant, director Prevention Services at the Boys and Girls Club of Souhegan Valley said, “we’re looking at underage drinking, prescription drug misuse, marijuana use, and vaping and asking them why it’s here, why are kids using it, and then why here, what are the specific reasons?”

Additionally, there will also be training on how to administer NARCAN which is a nasal spray that can be “used for the treatment of an opioid emergency or a possible opioid overdose with signs of breathing problems and severe sleepiness or not being able to respond.” CAST will provide  the trainees with NARCAN to have in the case of an emergency.

Jace Troie, CAST Coalition Coordinator, said, “we are looking forward to holding a high school community conversation for teenagers in the near future.”   Troie emphasized that “we really need their voices” and to “tell them that we’ll have pizza” at the listening session on January 8th.