May 11, 2021
“It’s like driving at night: you can only see so far ahead, but you know there’s more out there.”
That’s how junior Kealy Coulon views her life with mental health struggles. Despite the challenges she has faced, Kealy holds onto her optimism and hope amidst depressive episodes.
“My depression started when I was thirteen,” Kealy said. “I kept it to myself for a year before I finally told my parents.”
At a young age such as thirteen, it’s easy for “self-stigma” (as the American Psychiatric Association refers to it) to create a sense of “internalized shame” as well as other negative associations about mental illnesses or struggles.
“I didn’t tell anyone because I led myself to believe that I was overreacting. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was doing it for attention,” Kealy said.
But that wasn’t the case. One of the many first steps to receiving help or treatment is realizing that mental illnesses are real; they’re just as important to acknowledge as any other sort of illness. Internalized stigmas such as self-stigma prevent the normalization of therapy and treatment.
“Oftentimes, students might not tell someone they are struggling and feel as if they need to deal with it on their own. But the reality is, sometimes we need help that we can’t give to ourselves in order to feel better,” Liberty’s Swedish hospital teen mental health counselor Hillary Cohen said.
“I had everything going for me. There was nothing to be down about in my life, but then this thing hit,” Kealy said. “And it felt like everything was just wrong.”
Like many adolescents, Kealy had to push past the idea that something had to be going wrong for her to feel “wrong.” Mental health struggles may be accompanied by challenges in one’s life, but they can occur without prompting as well. Either way, reaching out for advice or information is normal and healthy.
That barrier of feeling as though this struggle was only hers to face alone was something that Kealy had to overcome to receive the help that she needed.
“I thought that if I held onto this, I could eventually get over it, or maybe it would just disappear on its own,” Kealy said. “But that’s not the case. You have to work to feel better.”
So she did. Kealy’s first therapy session took place just a month after she found the courage to open up to her parents about her mental health struggles. Persevering through her worsening depression, things took a turn when she had her first panic attack.
“It was scary trying to navigate through anxiety along with my depression,” Kealy said. “My mom and I went to my therapist to talk about medication since we didn’t want the panic attacks to get any worse. It took a while to find the right one with the dosage that fit me, but eventually, we found it and things started to ease up.”
The process of getting help was a necessary one for Kealy’s situation, but the need for medication in any mental health situation can pose challenges for teenagers in our world today.
“There are many reasons why students or teens may not reach out or seek help,” Liberty psychologist Rebecca Ragland said. “There could be family or cultural dynamics, feelings of shame, lack of resources or financial support, or they may be afraid of what it means to need medication. As a society, we don’t always make it easy to get help or provide resources in a way that is accessible for all.”
These roadblocks, among endless societal stigma against seeking mental health support, make therapy a touchy subject for most. Public stigma makes this an isolating issue, but it shouldn’t be.
“This affects more people than we know—adults and teens included,” counselor Vicki Kenney said. “We have to start normalizing therapy and making it something that feels safe to talk about. We need to educate our communities so that we can eliminate stigmas that isolate people in their experiences, struggles, and difficulties.”
Kealy echoes this message today after nearly three years in therapy, knowing that it truly does have a meaningful positive impact.
“Without my therapist or my parents, I probably wouldn’t have made it as far as I have,” Kealy said. “I wish I had had more influences in my life hearing about therapy and treatments because talking about it more might’ve helped me feel a bit less alone.”
This simple concept of just talking more about people’s experiences helps bring mental illness and its resources to light.
“There’s not enough education for families and communities,” Kenney said. “But there are community mental health agencies and all kinds of resources out there.”
Overcoming this lack of information, alongside talking about mental health issues more, is vital for normalizing therapy and mental health discussion. To start, it’s a matter of reassuring communities, including those at Liberty, that help is available.
“Not everybody has access to resources—the right insurance, the right connections, or the necessary finances. There are all these barriers in our society making it difficult for somebody to ask for help, so we’re doing our best to spread the message about resources that help people push past barriers,” Kenney said.
Students at Liberty have access to such resources, which brings us just one step closer to normalizing therapy, no matter how small that step is. While talking with friends and family can be therapeutic, it’s important to seek a mental health professional through these resources in serious cases. Counselors or therapists are options that offer professional treatment that can be personalized to your needs for the best care. They are trained to help you when you need it, but it’s crucial to know that treatment with them is not binding.
“It’s okay if you meet with a therapist and don’t like them or feel comfortable talking to them. You can find someone else who you like better,” Cohen said. “This is common in the mental health world—it’s important to find someone you’re comfortable with so you can be open and honest and get the right help.”
There are also other resources, such as call and text lines, that are offered as well. Overall, Liberty’s counselors all agree that what’s important is just talking to someone you trust. Reaching out for help is okay and encouraged.
“Unfortunately, we are still hesitant in this country to talk about mental health, but there are always people who are ready to help and support you,” Ragland said.
As for Kealy, her journey with her mental health is still ongoing. But she’s found the help that works for her and is sharing her story to encourage others to find what works for them.
“Change is scary. That’s one thing I’m working with my therapist on,” Kealy said. “But I think talking about these things helps you connect to others and feel closer. When you talk about it, it seems very real–and it is–but it gets easier to talk about once you let yourself.”
So, despite this seemingly never-ending road to normalizing therapy, it’s clear that we’re getting closer every day. Realizing a need for help and understanding that there is help available is all it takes to start a journey down that beneficial road.
“Seek help. I was in a bad place, but now I’m out of it. You still fight, and there are still bad days,” Kealy said. “I don’t like saying it gets better, but it gets easier to handle.”
Liberty Mental Health Resources for Students:
Swedish Teen Mental Health Counselor– Hillary Cohen, MSW, LICSW
Liberty Counseling Website: https://sites.google.com/site/libertyhighcounseling/student-parent-resources
ISD Community Resources:
If you have an emergency or if you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the emergency lines listed below. If you are concerned for someone’s immediate safety, please call 911.
Mental Health CRISIS SERVICES:
Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741741 www.crisistextline.org
24-Hour Crisis Chat: www.contact-usa.org/chat.html
King County Crisis Connections: 206-461-3222
Trevor Project: 1-866-4UTREVOR (488-7386) (specific toward LGBTQ youth) https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/
Trevor Project Text: Text ‘START’ to 678678 Trans Lifeline:877-565-8860
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Teen Link: 1-866-833-6546 www.teenlink.org
Teen Line: Text ‘TEEN’ to 839863
Children’s Crisis Outreach Response Services (CCORS) through the Crisis Clinic: 206-461-3222
Washington 24-Hour Recovery Help Line: 866.789.1511 www.warecoveryhelpline.org
Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
American Psychiatric Association Source: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination