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ReachOut Launches Speakers Bureau!

by RO_Meredith Mental Health

Speakers BureauMoved by requests from schools and communities looking for youth to discuss mental health topics and break down the stigma around these issues, we're thrilled to announce the launch of the ReachOut Speakers Bureau*! Sponsored by the Each Mind Matters mini-grant initiative, ReachOut has trained a selection of youth volunteers passionate about mental health advocacy in California.

Available for speaking engagements for both youth and youth advocates, members of our speakers bureau have already delivered compelling presentations for audiences at the San Mateo Youth Conference and the 7th International Together Against Stigma conference in San Francisco.

If you have an upcoming school or community event that could use a youth voice keyed into the challenges of growing up today, check out the brief profiles of our speakers below and contact Michael Young, Youth Programs Manager to coordinate an appearance. 

Daniel

Daniel Robert Caldera Jr. is a research assistant and student at Pitzer College, part of the Claremont Consortium, studying Linguistics & Cognitive Science and expresses his lived experience with mental health challenges through writing and community engagement.

Mackenzie

Mackenzie Ellsworth is a jewelry designer and student at University of San Francisco studying Entrepreneurship and Innovation/Environmental Studies, and expresses her lived experience with depression through writing and design.

Emily 

Emily Pham is currently an undergraduate student attending San Francisco State University studying Psychology and Counseling. Emily aspires to become a school counselor and voice-over artist in the future. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music, singing, dancing, exercising, voice acting and writing.

Estephani

Estephani Alanis is a Mental Health Advocate in Orange County California. Estephani is a Southern California Team Lead for Each Mind Matters Change Agents and is currently studying Behavioral Science at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, CA. She expresses efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination through Crisis Intervention Traning for Law Enforcement.

Kaila

Kaila Tang is a passionate advocate for cultural-competency and ethnic minority mental health who has struggled with major depression and other related stressors that have resulted in her interest in counseling and trauma work with women of color. Spreading awareness in regards to equal rights and treatment for under-represented and under-served populations has become very important to her.

Haley

Haley Adams is high school student in Redwood, CA who volunteers as a ReachOutHere Peer Supporter. She is passionate about helping her peers get through tough times and combatting the stigma surrounding mental health.

Jessica

Jessica Van Tuinen is a student at Modesto Junior College and works at Juvenile Justice where she oversees the youth leadership program, Youth In Mind, and mentors young adults who have recently been released from Juvenile Hall. As well, she is a CAYEN (California Youth Empowerment Network) board member. Her personal experience with anxiety has inspired her to help as many young people as she can. 

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*This program is funded by counties through the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63). It is one of several Prevention and Early Intervention Initiatives implemented by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of California counties working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities. CalMHSA encourages the use of materials contained herein, as they are explained in our licensing agreements. To view the agreements, please visit: calmhsa.org

ReachOut Interview: Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places

by RO_Meredith Interviews

In today's blog, we talk to Jennifer Niven, the YA author behind All the Bright Places, a New York Times bestseller and a novel that honestly and powerfully deals with so many of the issues we tackle on ReachOut. 

Beyond that, it's also a gripping love story. But while the chemistry between Finch and Violet is undeniable, so are the very real challenges that each grapple with on a daily basis. Finch with the unpredictable ups and downs of his own mind and Violet, who struggles to move past her grief and guilt over the loss of her sister. That's what brings them to meet under grim circumstances at school and propels them into a senior year of discovery neither saw coming.

Intrigued? Read on for our interview with Jennifer and enter to win one free copy of ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by posting in the comments below! The first person (located in the US) who shares where they feel "unlimited, fearless and safe," words used by Violet to describe the online magazine she created, will be our winner.

Update: Our winner has been named but the conversation continues on the ReachOutHere Forums where we talk about books!

Trigger warning: The sensitive and realistic depiction of mental illness and suicidal ideation may be upsetting to some readers. 

ReachOut: What inspired you to write a story that dealt with suicidal thoughts, mental illness and grief from the firsthand perspective? How did it come to be a YA novel?

Jennifer Niven: Years ago, I knew and loved a boy, and that boy was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. I’d always thought of writing something about the experience, but how do you write something so personal and so tough?

When I finally sat down to try it in the summer of 2013, I knew in my bones that I should write it as YA. I’ve always preferred first person narration because I feel it’s the most immediate, and most novels dealing with mental illness and suicide seem to be written from the outside looking in—the main character is either left in the wake of someone who has [died by] suicide or they’re observing that person from afar. We rarely get to hear from the character who’s actually going through it.

RO: The word “survivor” is used a lot to characterize Violet, and I know you have a personal connection with the term as well. What did you learn about that label in the process of writing this book? What was important for you to include?

JN: The first thing I learned, after all these years, was that I had a label. Survivor of suicide. All I knew was that I’d loved and lost someone who died too soon. And it was traumatic. And it was heartbreaking. And part of me will never get over it. I’ve lost so many people in my life— my father, my grandparents, cousins, friends, mentors, cats, and, most recently, my mom, who was my very best friend.  So much loss.  But through it, I try to focus on something Violet realizes in the book:  it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.  Every person I’ve lost has left me so much—including this boy I knew and loved—and I like to think I carry them with me. I’ve also learned the importance of wandering the world, making it lovely, and leaving something behind. It was important to me to share that with readers.

RO: There are so many different types of adults that surround both Violet and Finch in the form of parents, counselors and teachers. Some are more involved and engaged than others, but all are flawed in their own realistic ways. What do you hope readers will take away from these portrayals?

JN: As Finch’s counselor says, sometimes we can only see what people allow us to see. People are very good at hiding in plain sight. I’m guilty of this too—like Violet I tend to smile a lot on the outside when I’m hurting the most. Recognizing that, we need to pay attention to the people in our lives. After reading my book, a teacher in New Zealand suddenly noticed that one of his students was acting a lot like Finch, and it turns out that the student was in fact suicidal and struggling with issues he didn’t understand.

We need to learn to be more aware, but I also hope readers will reach out. Speak up. Let someone know how you’re feeling, or if you’re close to someone who is battling mental illness and you’re worried about that person, reach out and speak up for them. I’m hearing from many, many teens who are either struggling with their own mental health issues or know someone who is, and the first thing I tell them is to talk to someone they trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher, counselor, sibling, or friend. Being isolated only makes things worse, and you really, truly aren’t alone.

RO: Violet creates the magazine Germ, “Because people my age need somewhere they can go for advice or help or fun or just to be without anyone worrying about them. Somewhere they can be unlimited and fearless and safe, like in their own rooms.”

First of all, I love this description (partly because it reminds me of ReachOut) and the fact that germmagazine.com exists in real life! Did you have a place (real or fictional) that felt like this to you when you were a teen?

JN: I think that place was my own imagination. I’d been writing stories from the time I could form words on a page, and my two amazing parents always encouraged me to write and to express myself. I also had a close-knit group of friends that were like my real-life ReachOut/Germ. Sometimes we wrote stories together, and it was a way to deal with the things we didn’t feel we were able to talk about or discuss with each other. During my senior year of high school, my two best friends and I were dealing with our own private, individual struggles, and we poured it out on paper in what became a long, sad, angry, often funny, very chaotic stage play. It saved us. Reading was also an outlet because books reminded me I wasn’t alone, no matter what I was going through.

RO: The internal monologues of Finch and Violet speak to the struggles of so many teens who may feel isolated by the darkness of their thoughts and the fear of unleashing that on those around them because of stigma. What has the response been like from teen/young adult readers who relate with your characters? Has anything surprised you in their reactions?

JN: The response has been emotional and overwhelming, and while I anticipated some of that, I had no idea just how emotional and overwhelming it would be. The thing I hear most from readers is that this book saved their lives in some way, big or small. They’ve thanked me for making them feel like someone gets them, and for reminding them they aren’t alone. One girl wrote to say she had been to the drugstore to buy sleeping pills because she wanted to die, and for some reason my book was sitting there next to them. She picked up the book and started reading and forgot about the pills. Hours later, after she finished, she wrote to tell me that she wants to be here in this world to find her own bright places and that she’d enrolled in a counseling program at school.

One thing I learned firsthand from my own experience:  losing someone to suicide is different from losing someone to cancer or a car accident or a stroke—or any other “acceptable” way to die.  There is stigma attached to mental illness and suicide, and if I was made to feel that way after losing this boy I knew, imagine how hard it was for him to find help and understanding when he was alive. I want readers to know that it’s important to talk about it, that help is out there, that it gets better, that high school isn’t forever, and that life is long and vast and full of possibility.

Pansexuality: Debunking the Myths

by Mere Community

Today's blog post comes from forum member ForgottenSoul2015, who recently created a special space in the forums to answer questions on pansexuality. We were so inspired by her approach and the positive response, we asked her to share her mythbusing message with the wider ReachOut community. Read on and feel free to add your thoughts to the forum thread.  

There are three main questions I get from people when I tell them I am pansexual. Most of them are rooted in myths and misunderstandings about what pansexuality is and what pansexuals are like. To help clear up the confusion, and help some of you avoid awkward future conversations, I am going to attempt to debunk some of the misconceptions and answer some common questions. 

I suppose a good place to start is by simply defining pansexuality.  Pansexuality is sexual attraction, sexual desire, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people of any sex or gender identity (https://thecenter.wsu.edu/resources/pansexuality/).  Unfortunately, some people do not quite grasp or accept this ideology.  I have heard so many ridiculous notions and questions and I think that it is time for someone to set the record straight.

I am going to talk about each of the questions I commonly get and explain what each gets wrong about pansexuality.  The first two are quite ridiculous but the last one is a legitimate question that I get constantly. I want to make sure these questions have to be asked less frequently and I want people to take pansexuality more seriously.

1. “So, you have sex with pans?” Yes, this is the first question most people ask me.  My response to this is typically, “Oh, yes! My favorite is Sunbeam.”  As you can see, this is completely ridiculous. We certainly do not have sex with pans.  This is a playful question and it’s easy to brush off.  However, it can still be a painful reminder that not everyone sees my sexuality as legitimate. Just because they haven’t heard the term before, some people resort to dismissive humor.

2. “So, you have sex with animals?” This second question generally happens after I explain my sexuality to someone, “Well, it’s possible for me to be attracted to pretty much anyone.” Of course, I automatically announce how ridiculous it is and how ignorant they are and expand my definition to include, “I’m attracted to humans.”  However, the damage is already done and I have to suppress my anger. It’s so offensive and hurtful to hear people assume that we are sexual deviants. Once again, this seems to come from a lack of understanding and/or a willingness to understand us as fellow human beings just seeking out fulfilling relationships in the world. Please, I beg you, NEVER ask a pansexual this. Although we may not show it, every time we’re asked a question like this, it chips away a little piece of our hearts.  

3. “So, you’re bisexual?” This is the third and most understandable question people ask me. That’s why I want to stress that pansexuality is NOT the same thing as bisexuality.  The prefix “bi” is defined as two.  The prefix “pan” means all.  Bisexuals, by definition, have an attraction to male and females only.  Pansexuals, by definition, have an attraction to all genders including transgender, cis female (or biologically and mentally female), cis male (or biologically and mentally male), gender fluid (where some days you are feminine and other days you masculine), etc.  So, as you can see, pansexuality is very different. 

If someone comes out to you as pansexual, just remember to be respectful.  If you have genuine questions, it’s okay to ask them.  Some questions that would be okay to ask are:

1. "Can you tell me more about your sexuality?"  We know that not everyone has heard of our sexuality and we are generally happy to explain it.  If you still don’t understand, there are plenty of resources online that can help explain even more. One good starting point is BiNet USA, an umbrella organization for bisexual, pansexual, fluid and other people who feel “somewhere in between.” 

2. " How is pansexuality different from bisexuality?" We get that it’s sometimes hard to grasp our sexuality.  The reason why this way of asking is so much better is because you aren’t assuming anything.  This question sounds inquisitive where the previous way sounds harsh and full of negative assumptions.

3. "How do you describe your sexuality? Do you have a type?"  These questions are good to ask once you’re more comfortable with someone, especially if you are romantically interested in the person. While pansexuals have the capability to be attracted to anyone, that doesn’t mean we don’t have preferences that are specific to us.  Just make sure to be respectful with the answer and don’t compare their response to other sexualities.  For example, if a male responds, “I prefer males, but I’m also attracted to other genders,” don’t respond with, “So… you’re gay?”  Just because we have a preference towards a certain gender doesn’t mean our sexuality changes!

While pansexuality is not accepted by everyone, there are so many people out there that do accept it.  If you think you may be pansexual, there are many support groups on Facebook that are full of people willing to help you through the transition.  All you have to do is put “Pansexuality” in the search bar and it will open a whole new world of supporting, loving people. One of my favorites is the group Pansexual Pride. If you join the ReachOut Forums and post your questions or concerns there, there are also members and staff members who are happy to answer any more questions that you may have.  There are people who want to help you but you have to reach out to them and tell them what is happening.

Coping with heartbreak on Valentine’s Day

by RO_Meredith Relationships

Let's face it. Valentine's Day can be hard to ignore. If you're getting over a breakup, it can feel nearly impossible. We get it and we're here to help. Today's blog is from ReachOut Youth Council member Brandon on how to navigate the holiday when you're nursing a broken heart.

Ahh, love is in the air! Well, for some of us. For another good portion of us, this Valentine's Day is creeping up with lots of anxiety or memories. Going through a break up is hard and going through a romantic holiday after said break up can be even harder.

The feelings of past celebrations or good memories come back and can feel like they are consuming you. And that's okay. It's completely normal to think about that person who's no longer in your life. After all, they did play a big role in the person you are today. After a break up, it can be hard to not be angry. I, myself, am guilty of this as well. But what I've come to find out is that this anger, coldness, or bitterness will not help you recover. It will only reinforce the walls you have built up and continue to shut us off from future opportunities.

So, how do we take care of ourselves and move on when reminders of coupledom seem to be everywhere? 

  • Reflect honestly on your relationship. Trying to understand how we got to this single-ness is one of the best things we can do. Trust in the process of moving forward and don't forget why the relationship ended. This takes time and in many cases, months. Check out the fact sheet on getting through a break up for more information.
  • Get support. You're feeling confused and heartbroken, and the one person you could go to before is no longer there to listen. This is the point where you can turn to your friends, your journal, or the ReachOut Forums and express how you're feeling.
  • Talk it out. The simple act of expressing how you feel can really help. We too often let our emotions bottle up and end up carrying these heavy weights on our shoulders. Unpack that. Let others know how you feel.
    • Keep it classy. But just like anything, there's a right and a wrong way to do this. Subtweeting or writing a text post for the whole world to see might not be the best way.
  • Express yo'self. If you're struggling to find an outlet in another person, write it out! Or draw it out! Both of these forms can help you process what you're thinking and leave you feeling like you can breathe again.

This past year has been full of ups and downs for me personally but one of the things that I am most proud of is how I have found inner peace with questions that I won’t get answered. Through this, I have been able to find happiness, grow more independent, and not need other’s approval to be happy.

If you want to connect with someone supportive on Valentine’s Day but don't have anyone specific in mind, try the forums here at ReachOut! This is a great way to talk to others anonymously in a safe, inclusive, and healthy way. The biggest thing is to just not keep it to yourself. Give it a try and tell us how do you make peace?

About Brandon

Hi everyone! My name is Brandon Rohlwing,  and I am a National Youth Council Member with ReachOut.com! I am from the suburbs of Chicago and currently live in downtown Chicago attending Roosevelt University. I am studying integrated marketing communications in the hopes of starting a career at a nonprofit that focuses on mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

 

Overcoming Stigma and Labels on the Road to Recovery

by RO_Meredith Health, Mental Health

RecoveryThe path to recovery isn't always easy, but it is possible. In today's blog, forum member Ray shares the lessons learned on his own journey from addict to father. 

My name is Ray and, like many others in the world, I suffered from substance abuse. Substance abuse kills about 200,000 people per YEAR and the numbers are just rising! The issue isn't helped by the fact that drugs are sometimes idolized by our favorite singers, music videos, friends, family and what have you. We're made to believe it's cool or it'll make us fit in with no consequences, but  the truth is drugs can also take your life off course. Believe me, I've experienced it firsthand – and also found my way back through recovery! It wasn't easy with the label and stigma attached to addicts, but I've found that through self-compassion and new ambitions, I've been able to come through this struggle even stronger than I was before.

When I was younger, my family would verbally abuse me and tell me how worthless I was and how I wouldn't grow up to be anything. Coming from my own parents, this created deep-seated insecurity and depression. Then one day, my brother's friend came a long and made it seem like drugs were my pathway to happiness. Plus, I'd seen rappers and actors I idolized use drugs, so I thought, "Hey, if people like that can do it, why can't I?" It doesn't mean I'm a bum on the street, or that I'd do anything to get high. And at first I was right but the stronger my addiction got, the more I knew I was becoming what I was most afraid of and that was "the addict." It took hitting rock bottom before I could seek and accept help, but I'm now three years clean. I have a sponsor, attend meetings and have also sought help for my depression. I've come a long way from where I was, but I could still be described as a recovering addict.

Many people have their own idea of what an addict is. In some people's minds, an addict is a thief, heartless, dirty, crazy, or bad person and in so many cases that is not true. We are people like everyone else and just because we made a bad choice doesn't meant we're bad people. We're only human and doesn't every human make mistakes? While hooked on a drug, we may become someone we're not and our identity may slowly begin to vanish, but that doesn't mean we can't find our way back after recovery. We all are much stronger then what any of us gives ourselves credit for!

If you've been through recovery, it may feel like the label "addict" will follow you, but you don't have to follow that label By that I mean: follow the label you believe you are! For example, if you believe you're a singer then sing away! Let the world hear that voice! Don't ever let anyone hold you back, especially your past!  For me that means embracing the role of father to my daughter.

The strongest people  in my eyes are the ones who have been to the deepest parts of hell in their life, climbed out and became everything everyone told them they wouldn't be! And sometimes it's easier said then done but nothing is impossible! And the only label that matters is the one you give yourself! Never forget that!

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