July 22, 2014

Last summer, when I was an intern for NAMI, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a launch event on Capitol Hill for Ok2Talk.org. I listened to Congressmen and women talked about how important it was for the government to set aside party differences and address mental health issues in the coming year. I was there for the big reveal from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) of this brand new campaign that was aimed at teaching young people that it’s “ok2talk” about mental illness.

I remember furiously taking notes and thinking to myself– this is awesome! But how come it took so long for something like this to be created?
The answer is because for so long, many people, especially parents were scared to have the tough conversations with their kids about mental illness and vice versa. Young people are supposed to be carefree and innocent. No parent wants to imagine their child struggling, feeling alone or depressed, or misunderstood.
But, the reality is that mental illness affects young people at an alarming rate. We know that 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75 percent begin by age 24. We also know that early intervention and strong foundations of support are some of the best ways to lead individuals on the road to recovery. 
Ok2Talk was built as a forum for young people to talk about their mental health experiences and find support and solidarity among their peers. I remember at the launch event, after all of the politics and PR, a young woman named Ellie Hoptman from NAMI Northern Virginia walked up to the podium to make a speech. She talked about how hard it was for her to live with a mental illness and keep it hidden from her classmates until one day she finally spoke up and realized that she was not alone. Ellie said, “There were people out there like me, and it made all the difference in the world.”
Now, one year later, NAMI has been privileged with the opportunity to adopt this network of young people from NAB and continue to provide support to thousands of passionate, brave and articulate teens across the nation. The stories I read on Ok2Talk each day echo the things that Ellie said in her speech last summer.
"I don’t know why I decided to write this. I guess some part of me wants to reach out to someone that won’t judge"
“I know what it’s like to feel like no one cares. But, I got better and so will you.”
“I know it’s hard and you don’t see the point, but I promise, even though it sounds really cheesy, that all of it happens for a reason and you will come out so much stronger in the end.”
It’s amazing what a difference just being able to talk to someone can make. Support from a friend, parent, teacher or even a stranger can go such a long way.
Encouraging young people to speak up and ask for help saves lives.
If you want to share your story or just read the words of others please visit www.ok2talk.org.

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