Banishing the Stigma around Mental Illness
Alexis, 25, is an advocate with a passion for helping those with mental illness and banishing the stigma associated with it. Alexis shares her personal experiences with losing a loved one to suicide, her advice on recovery from mental illness, and her own suicide attempt.
Note: If you or someone you know needs help for a mental illness, please go to:https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/. If you or someone who know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255).
What is your passion in life?
My passion is to speak up about mental illness and banish the stigma associated with it. I want to educate our community on mental health to prevent suicide, and to spread faith and hope to those affected by mental illness and suicide.
Do you have personal experience with mental health issues?
I lost my mother to suicide on Thanksgiving in 2009. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression. Her voice remained silent, and she became more and more isolated until her passing. But her voice remains within me and now will be heard as an example of what can happen if warning signs are ignored or avoided.
I am currently in recovery. When I was 19 years old, a year after my mother’s suicide, I also tried to take my own life. Beforehand, I had kept silent and held back from opening up about my troubles and unhealthy coping methods.
Thankfully, today, I am maintaining a healthy and stable life. I am no longer afraid to be myself, and I have support from family, friends, and those around me. Three steps helped me: first, acceptance and forgiveness; next, action; and, finally, recovery and healing.
Do you have any advice for other young people struggling with their mental health?
Acceptance and forgiveness is the hardest part. It also takes time, so patience is crucial. It is letting go of all our shields and letting out repressed feelings and emotions. It is forgiving yourself and forgiving those who have hurt you. It is letting go of what you can no longer control and letting go of the past in order to start new, for your future. It is also accepting the diagnosis of mental illness, and taking the initiative to do something about it. You have to want change; want recovery. Rely on yourself and push yourself. Unless you want to believe a healthy life is attainable, no one else can convince you. Focus on what can be controlled and that is, how we respond to situations, how we think about them, and how we cope with them. It is important to open up to treatment through therapy and medication (if appropriate), and also getting socially involved, doing research about the illness, and finding groups to support your goals. In my case, it was important to be involved socially with those who had similar interests in helping others, and ourselves, with mental health.
Through my research, I found the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which offers various programs to make a difference, bringing me to the final step of healing and recovery. And now, even better, I have the opportunity to work with NAMI educating our community, sharing my personal stories, and using their program "Say It Out Loud." I started out with stage fright. But that is what recovery is about - courage! For me, speaking up was scary. Now I'm doing it, and I am incredibly emotional as I share my message, with the hope that my story has and will give hope to those who are currently suffering and save lives by preventing suicide.
We all deserve personal freedom and to live fulfilling lives that promote hope! Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope it will prove that no matter what obstacles you face, you can recover, and you can make a difference!