"I Had Depression"

About one in five teens grapple with symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other emotional health issues—yet few talk about it. These kids are dedicated to changing that.

JORDAN

20, Jersey City, New Jersey 

HIS STRUGGLE: Withdrawal, anger, stress, anxiety

HIS STRENGTH: Helping pass a law that gave 16- and 17-year-olds access to therapy without having to get a parent’s permission 

 

“When I was 16 years old, there were some issues at home that I didn’t know how to deal with. I wanted help, I just didn’t know it was out there or how to get it. So instead, I was angry all the time, withdrawn. I didn’t have empathy for anyone. When I learned what therapy was, I immediately asked my mother if I could get it. But she said no. She didn’t want me sharing family stuff. And since I was a minor, New Jersey law said

I needed to get her permission. That was crushing. I felt like a bird in a cage—like I’d never get relief. Just a few months later, I went into foster care and was finally able to get some help. 

"Kids should be able to get help."

Living With a Mental Disorder
In this Buzzfeed video, young adults with depression, anxiety, OCD, and ADHD describe what it feels like to live with a mental disorder and the strengths and weaknesses these disorders have given them.

"About a year later, when my Boys and Girls Club was trying to come up with a service project around suicide prevention, I told them I thought that if we could change the law, teens would have hope of another way out. My peers and I worked for months, researching statistics and laws in our state, then getting our local lawmakers to sponsor a bill. In 2014, all of us traveled up to the state capital, Trenton, to testify at a hearing for it. I was so nervous! I told them that I could have easily been a suicide statistic. Afterward, a state senator told me, ‘I was going to vote against this bill, but after hearing what you had to say, I changed my mind.’

In 2016, the Boys and Girls Clubs Keystone Law passed in New Jersey, empowering minors ages 16 and 17 to get mental health care without an adult's permission. We learned that we create change, our stories move people, and we’re capable of much more than we ever thought.” 

SAMMY

18, Burlingame, California 

HER STRUGGLE: Obsessive compulsive disorder

HER STRENGTH: Speaking out to reassure teens they are not alone

 

“When I was a freshman, I was obsessed with grades: I felt like I had to get straight A’s or something terrible would happen. In my high school, that kind of thinking wasn’t unusual: Parents really pushed kids to be successful. But that wasn’t my story. At around 13, I’d been diagnosed with OCD—obsessive-compulsive disorder—in which obsessive thoughts take over your life. Mine all focused on success. Before tests, I had rituals that I ‘had’ to do, like rolling my pen a certain way. If a kid I thought of as a slacker brushed against me in the hall, I’d panic—I felt like I might ‘catch’ it. My parents tried to find me help, but it was hard: Mental illness wasn’t something people traded tips on like SAT prep programs. Meanwhile, I was terrified of people finding out. But as my obsessions became more limiting—I couldn’t walk certain hallways at school, and I spent hours trying to get my homework just right—they were getting harder to hide. 

“Whatever you’re going through, someone else is, too.” 

"Then, midyear, I got a B in Spanish class. It was devastating. I didn’t want to live anymore. I was put in a psychiatric ward for four days. It was scary, but also a turning point. My mom found a treatment program that saved my life. The therapists taught me to quiet my mind and to face the things that scared me. Afterward, I felt the freest I had in years.

"Now, I’m on medication and I see a therapist regularly, and things are much better. My mom was so grateful that she started speaking at fund-raisers for the program—and I wanted to help too. I spoke out about my experiences—at schools, at events, to the media—to bring attention to this resource, but also to tell kids, ‘You’re not alone.’ Mental illness is real, it’s challenging, and it’s completely OK to be dealing with it.” 

KENIDRA

17, St. Louis, Missouri 

HER STRUGGLE: Anxiety and depression

HER STRENGTH: Creating an online space for girls suffering from the same

“On my first day at a new school in 10th grade, I was going up the stairs in a pair of shorts when the school principal called me over. She complimented my hair—but I could tell that what she was really looking at was my legs, which are covered in scars. When I was younger, I’d sometimes cut myself.

I’d had depression and anxiety, and cutting was one thing that gave me relief—for a little while. I’d been hospitalized more than once before treatment and the love and support of my family pulled me through. At my old school, I’d been open about my experiences—it took a while, but people knew me and I’d been accepted. At the new school, though, I was told I’d have to either put on a pair of pants or go home. 

“You don't have to feel ashamed.” 

"I won’t lie: I shed a couple of tears. But that night, I thought, ‘I worked hard to build this confidence, so I can’t just allow people to tear it down!’ I went to see the principal and explained: My scars are a part of me. They are a sign of turning pain to power. Not hiding my legs, like I used to, is part of that, too. After I finished, the principal apologized. She said she’d been trying to protect me—she hadn’t thought of it my way. I realized that people know so little about mental illness, they don’t know how to react if you’re open about it.

"But you shouldn’t have to hide. So I’ve become an advocate for mental health and self-harm and suicide awareness. In social media, on my blog,
and in public, I’ve created a space for people to talk about those things. I call it the CHEETAH Movement, which stands for Confidence, Harmony, Enlightenment, Encouragement, Tranquility, Awareness, and Hope. I also wrote a short film that’s on YouTube and self-published a book, A Heart of Hope. And I know it’s made a difference: After one girl DM’d me, we got her help. I want to be free to live my life without shame. And I want other teens to do that too, no matter what they’re going through.” 

Kevin Breel: Confessions of a Depressed Comic
Comedian Kevin Breel appeared outwardly happy to friends, but on the inside he was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Now his mission is to help teens break the stigma around mental illness so they feel comfortable letting others know when they're suffering.
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