I’m going to try to keep generating content here at least through the fest, and I’d like to try afterward too, so some may get a little personal, hopefully without over-sharing too much.
I’ve tried harder this year than ever publicizing the festival and have gotten good results, at least doubling our traffic. I keep trying to think of new ways and visited some online mental health forums and support groups to see if I could post and share it.
Visiting some of these forums was a little triggering for me as it brought back flashbacks of when I was at my worst and desperately seeking out help from anyone who would listen. One of my friends called it like being stuck in an echo chamber or a hall of mirrors, where all you could hear was your misery being reflected back at you.
One of the messages I saw broke my heart. It was from a young teen saying she’d had suicidal thoughts, but she was so scared to tell her family and friends, and asking what she should do. Luckily she got some good responses like visiting her school counselor or a health center or a support group.
One of the reasons it broke my heart is it was so similar to what Emma Benoit, the teen suicide survivor and activist, said in My Ascension. She said didn’t even know what was wrong—she didn’t know how to voice it, and didn’t want to scare her friends and family.
One of the resources Emma brought up in her film was the Hope Squad. I love that we live in a day and age where the Hope Squad is a thing. They are school peers selected by students as being caring and trustworthy who are then trained by mental health experts to recognize warning signs and provide friendly, non-judgemental support and referral to struggling teens. The program has shown great results in reducing stigma and suicide attempts. https://hopesquad.com/
Of course, not every school has a Hope Squad. We also live in a day and age where there are free hotlines, texting services, and chat rooms around the clock. I have utilized some of these resources myself and while they vary in quality, I will say they can be successful in the moment at breaking the “hall of mirrors.” Sometimes you just need to voice what you’re feeling and have someone validate it, even if it’s not what you want or need to hear (and in some situations, nothing would be).
It can be so hard to reach out for help, especially if you don’t really know what’s wrong or haven’t lived in a culture where mental health has been addressed. And worries about scaring family and friends, or being scared to tell them, are very common and real. I think that’s why it’s vital that openness is encouraged and stigma reduced.
Peer support is a wonderful thing. Programs like the Hope Squad or those run through NAMI (to name just a couple) are valuable resources because sometimes a peer who has had similar experiences or awareness, who you know will understand, is so much easier to open up to and can help make the initial crack in that hall of mirrors in your mind.