Enjoy this free article courtesy of Choices, the health, social-emotional learning, and life-skills magazine for grades 7–12 

"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.


20, Jersey City, New Jersey 

Jordan's now in college and works at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hudson County, 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 So instead, I was angry all the time, withdrawn.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."

"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.” 


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.” 


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.” 

No, You’re Not “Crazy” 

Mental health diagnoses everyone ought to know 


(also known as manic-depressive illness) A chronic illness that causes strong shifts—soaring up, plunging down, or both—in a person’s mood and activity levels, affecting how they carry out day-to-day tasks. 


A pattern of unreasonable, distressing thoughts and fears that lead to compulsive repetitive behaviors, interfering with daily life. 


A panic attack is a sudden, intense, physical fear—heart pumping, sweat pouring—when there is no real danger. Many people will experience one at some point, but for those with panic disorder, such attacks keep happening, or they develop a standing fear that they’ll recur. 


An unreasonable fear of a situation or object that poses little or no danger, to the point that it affects daily functioning. (So a fear of spiders is no biggie, but a fear so great that you won’t leave the house is.) 


Characterized by can’t-shake-them memories, negative thoughts or moods, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. All are triggered by a traumatic event, causing significant problems with relationships and responsibilities. 


A severe, lifelong mental illnesses, in which the person at times can’t tell what’s real from what’s imagined and may hallucinate, hear voices, or believe that others are controlling their mind. 


(also known as social phobia) A fear of being embarrassed or judged that’s serious enough that it gets in the way of everyday life. 


Talking to an adult you trust—a parent, counselor, coach, teacher—is always the No. 1 recommendation. But you can also:

CALL: 1-800-662-HELP (4357), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s bilingual national helpline, which offers confidential, free, round-the clock help. (In an immediate crisis, call 911.)

TEXT: “TEEN” to 839863 from 6 p.m. to
10 p.m. PT to connect with a trained teen volunteer. (You can also call 800-TLC-TEEN.)

VISIT: ActiveMinds.org for information on getting help and how to support a friend who’s struggling. 

Like what you see? Then you'll love Choices, our health, social-emotional learning, and life-skills magazine for grades 7–12 

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