Of all the incredible moments my time with the Bezos Scholars Program has brought me, there is one that has left an especially indelible mark on me.
I chose mental health as the topic for our Local Ideas Festival (LIF) because I saw how not talking about mental health, in an attempt to brush the problem away, had only made things worse for someone I loved. I believe that having open conversation about mental health is the key to dismantling the stigma surrounding it, a stigma that is isolating and works to prevent people from seeking the support they need. Going into my LIF planning process, I knew very little about mental health and resources available in my community. I assumed that my community was practically a resource wasteland with very little desire to engage in discourse on the matter of stigma. But that all changed with the first meeting of my stellar planning team.The amazing team of students and educators who made DLthriving happen.
I had just gathered my LIF planning team for the first time in a small conference room in my high school, probably at a strange time given the complexity of coordinating 15 busy schedules. I was amazed by the diversity of the group that had assembled and the fact that they were gathered together because of a single shared purpose: to tackle the issue of mental health stigma in our community. As part of our introductions, I asked everyone to share the reason they had wanted to be involved with Detroit Lake’s first LIF. I thought I would have to wrestle answers out of my team but they went down the line, boldly explaining how mental health issues had affected them in their lives thus far. Some had experienced the deleterious effects of stigma first hand and others had seen someone they loved suffer. The striking thing to me was the pervasiveness of mental health issues within my relatively small community and the ability of my young team to express with candor their experiences with a topic many are uncomfortable talking about. This moment made me realize there was an actual need and most importantly, a desire for an increase in mental health awareness in my community. This was one of the most important points in my planning process and the one that kept my fire for change going for the rest of my senior year.
As World Mental Health Day approaches, my message is trifold. First: be open with people when discussing mental health. They might just surprise you with how well they can relate and connecting with others who deal with a similar mental health issue also works against the isolating effects of stigma. Second, be brave, for it takes courageous people willing to share their stories to work to dismantle the stigma around mental health that causes so much undue suffering. Finally, have hope. We are moving towards a future without stigma because there are people all over the world who are kind and compassionate, filled with the desire to tackle this issue. And if those people are anything like my planning team, we have great reason to be hopeful.