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Often, people suffer in silence rather than admit they are struggling and need help. And too often, people turn their backs on those with mental health issues either because they lack insight into what mental health is or they are afraid because of the stigma attached to mental health – they see depression as a sign of weakness.

Why do we continue to turn our backs on someone who is struggling with depression or people with mental health concerns?

I believe the answer is lack of awareness, which we can fix through education about mental health and substance use disorders. Just like cancer is a disease of the body, depression is a disease of the mind that someone can’t just make it go away by putting a smile on their face or thinking happy thoughts. That is why a course like Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) is so critically important.

I work in several schools in my county as a mental health counselor and very rarely get through a week when I do not come across a student crying on campus. I watch both students and staff walk by the crying student and I just want to yell, “Somebody stop.”

Sometimes we are so wrapped up in the business of life that we forget that there are people all around us in need.  People struggling with depression and other mental health challenges are real people with real feelings and we need to treat them as such.

It is not a weakness to admit that you are struggling and need help. It is the exact opposite; it is a strength! Why? Because it’s hard to do. It’s hard to say I am struggling, and I need help.

I am not only a licensed mental health counselor, I’ve also been a YMHFA Instructor for more than four years. I have taught about 70 courses over the past four years and it has not only helped school staff learn the difference between typical adolescent development and the warning signs of mental illness, it has also helped them become more empathetic to the students and the families they serve.

They come to realize that we cannot define our students by their diagnosis or behavior, but recognize that behavior is a form of communication. Many people who have attended my classes over the years have had students and family members struggling or they themselves were struggling. They learn there is no shame in reaching out for help, that there is in fact help available and that mental illnesses are treatable.

Often, I get emails from those who have attended my classes about how much the course made a difference in their professional and personal lives. Everybody leaves the course feeling empowered and realizing that they can make a difference. Until our society as a whole becomes more educated and aware of mental health and mental illnesses, the warning signs of a mental health illness and the ways to help someone who is struggling, people will continue to suffer in silence because of the fear they’ll be judged.

We need to remember that often people put on a smile on the outside when the inside does not match. Thanks to the power of Youth Mental Health First Aid, we are breaking down the stigma and fear of judgment one person at a time! We are educating people about the warning signs and what they can do to help. We are making a difference and saving lives. Everybody needs to take a MHFA course today.

Kimberly Kelleher is a suicide prevention and family counselor and MHFA Instructor.

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