I remember being in Italy for a semester abroad while at university. One day in class, we had a guest lecturer who brought us a documentary she had been making on the effects of bipolar disorder in the country. That day is marked in my memory because of one line that she said, which was, “mental health is only now (2007) becoming socially recognised in Italy."
This lecturer who made the documentary was reaching out town by town with young women in mind. A high rate of suicide was a national problem, with possible mental health-related triggers. This was one of the first jolts of awareness for me towards a much-needed conversation in the world regarding mental health.
Today, it is safe to assume a more apparent possibility of knowing someone with a mental illness, personality disorder, or disability and not have a diagnosis to describe the conditions you may be experiencing. The signs are there - things like lack of coping skills, extreme highs and lows, alternative realities, depression, isolation...the list goes on.
As an educator, I have seen a lot of sad stories from wonderful kids, and I wonder how many of them experienced mental illness, personality disorders, or drug-induced disorders as a perpetrator in their caregiver.
I’d want to say the following to those students with all the compassion inside me:
First of all, you are not what your circumstances have made you. You have a choice, a life, and the capacity to do with it what you wish.
To the kid who is hungry and feels as though he has to hide it: You were never meant to carry shame in your life or for someone else because you have a need. We all get hungry sometimes, you are not alone. Please go tell someone you trust.
To the kid who wondered why one moment their parent was a beautiful human being, and then the next an absolute monster: You were made for a love that is constant and lasts. It's not your fault, and you are not needy.
To the kid who was neglected: Sometimes the scarier thing is realising it’s not that you were unimportant…it’s that your guardian couldn’t cope. I am sorry for every day you have felt alone.
To the kid whose parent chose drugs over parenting, loving, and providing: I am sorry you’ve had to learn how to cope yourself. You were meant to be cared for, looked after, and taught how to grow up.
To the kid who found a parent or sibling after a suicide attempt, overdose, or terrible accident: No one will be able to erase that memory for you, and I am so sorry. There are healthy ways to recover from the trauma today. You can still live, experience love, and freedom.
To the kid who had to live in the backseat of his grandmother's car, parking lot to parking lot, night after night: I am sorry that many people walked by you and did nothing.
To the kid who has a rich fantasy life because being in reality is horrific: I’m so sorry. I totally get why you need an escape. Don't retreat. Don't miss out on friendships available to you and the strategic people you could meet. Any day could change your story.
To every kid with a basic human need unmet: It’s not your fault. It’s not something to be ashamed of or something that should disqualify you from opportunities to live. On behalf of society, I am sorry that it has been allowed to rule your choices through prejudice, racism, economic strife, and policy. I’m sorry you’ve been taught to hide the desires of your heart.
Most of all…I am so sorry to the kid who told on a bully or the on the family secret and got no help. Whether you were believed or not you did the right thing. You are not a liar, manipulative, or bad at loving. Indeed, you are braver than most. Do not let go of the hope you have that life can get better.
Being young can suck. You are legally not an adult, too young to work, and too weak to stand up for yourself…trapped. It’s easy to become powerless even though you are a victim. But I want to tell you a secret and please don’t dismiss what I am saying just because I believe in God.
Be brave with the little things, there is always an opportunity that comes along to keep the worst thing from happening. Look for the exits, helpers, resources, and appointed epiphanies that can erase the places you are emotionally stuck from trauma in your life. Don’t give up hope.
You were never meant to try to pick up your life alone and move on.
I wish every day you had someone there to tell you the story crafted for your life is one of power, love, joy, and peace.
I think you are brave just for getting out of bed every day. Though no one knows what is happening in your inside world, I pray for you even today an act of hope in the form of someone or something would come and take a small piece of the darkness away so you can believe and experience peace.
Kalli Hendrickson is a Press Service International young writer from Brisbane and now in the USA.
Kalli Hendrickson was born in the beautiful State of Montana, USA. She graduated with a double Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and Art Education (K-12). She helped found the Meeting Place Café for Youth with A Mission, Brisbane Australia. Currently, she works for a local church doing Graphic Design, and is a part-time art, design and marketing teacher. Her passions include creativity and championing young people to be developed into their God-given identity and potential. Rest looks like a good book, dinner parties with friends, or a good coffee spot.