I recently saw two young adults speak at an event relating to youth mental health. Both of these youth have had, and continue to have personal struggles with mental health and they offered a unique insight to the challenges that a young person faces when trying to not only figure out growing up but growing up with mental illness.
I want to touch on the young man who spoke, Brent Seal http://www.sealwellness.com/ . His struggle through illness, diagnosis and ongoing treatment and living with Schizophrenia is inspiring. He is an articulate and touching speaker. It was very hard to listen to his story and not see the “what-if” with Willie and his journey.
One of the points that Brent made in his speech that struck me so poignantly is that when he was diagnosed, he googled “schizophrenia success stories”…and didn’t find much. He re-told how he had a choice to make at that point and he chose to BE a success story of living with Schizophrenia and having a full, productive and great life. And he is. It’s so hopeful to see someone who has found what they need to go on. He admits that he has had episodes and relapses – as almost everyone with a mental illness will – but that he’s doing ok.
It reminded me of when Willie and I had talked about mental illness and what the future could hold. He told me that he had looked up different mental illnesses on the internet and that it was pretty bleak. I didn’t know it at the time but Willie’s mind was beyond depression and anxiety. He was struggling with what may have been early signs of psychosis and was doing his best to hide this from everyone –including his psychiatrist and other therapists. We have a close family member (Willie’s Uncle) who lives with mental illness and is severely affected by it so Willie had a first-hand account of what life can be like with a disorder so significant that it affects your ability to live your life. I argued with him that the internet may not be the best place to get his information; that we were dealing with depression and that it would all work out ok in the end. What I didn’t know was that Willie was slowly losing hope and belief that it would be ok. He eventually lost faith in the system and in our ability to help him. He gave it a try… he told me that just before he died. He explained that he had tried it “our” way – the hospitals, the doctors and medications and therapies – and it wasn’t working.
Hope is a tenuous thing. Blind faith that somehow, things will get better won’t allow us to remain hopeful. We do have to see that what we are doing is making a difference and enacting change that needs to happen. I’m not sure yet what form my movement forward will take but I need it. I need it so that I can have hope that even though Willie is gone, we can help another youth who may be losing hope.
We need more and better resources but we also need better access and navigation through the resources that we already have. Our family doctors need to be aware of what help there is available and how to access it. Parents and families need to know of support groups that can offer a shoulder, an ear and a nudge in a direction that may help. We need youth who have gone through this to speak out and help their peers. Our kids need so much and we all owe it to them to do the best we can to deliver.