Do you or someone you know struggle with a mental illness? Chances are you do, and there's nothing wrong with it. 

I'm fortunate enough to have platforms to help others. I've got a microphone and an audience and I've got this blog. I will never take these for granted. Sure, I could talk about what Kim Kardashian is doing today, or I could use my voice to help my community on a topic that is very personal to me.

These numbers make things pretty clear.

  • 1 in 4 adults in the United States is diagnosed with a mental disorder
  • Depression is the most widespread among the mental disorders
  • 42 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder

Mental health needs to be a part of our regular dialogue. There are far too many people suffering in silence because of the stigma that still exists around mental health.

Like many, I was always a "nervous kid." I worried about everything. I recall my kindergarten teacher calling me a "worry wart".

The depression became very real in middle school and high school. As if being a teenager isn't hard enough, imagine feeling frightened all of the time. Terrified of social situations, health, family, the list was and continues to be long.

When I was a freshman right here at Toms River High School East, I told a few friends and fellow students that I was going to kill myself when I got home from school. Make no mistake, I was. I had planned everything.

I didn't participate in PE that day. As I sat on the bleachers thinking about what was going down later that day, I started to see two people walking towards the track. It was a guidance counselor and the principal. They asked me to come with them.

We walked back to the school and to the principal's office. When they opened the door, my Mom was standing there very upset.

It turns out one of the students sitting with me at lunch overheard what I was planning on doing and told someone. She is the reason I am still here.

Take the Ocean Cares Challenge to show your support and fight stigma. #OceanCaresICare. Share this blog and video to spread the word. Lou, Liz, Laurie and Lisa - you have officially been challenged. 

17+ years later, I still deal with bouts of depression and severe anxiety. I also have OCD. Thanks to medication it's manageable. I've been knocked down hard many times over the years. Thanks to family, friends and the passion for my craft, I keep getting back up again.

The main take away from my story is this. Just because one has a mental illness doesn't mean they can't be successful and productive members of society. However, society has to accept and understand our struggles. If a person has diabetes, they take insulin. Diabetes and mental illnesses are both medical disorders. Yet, talking about diabetes is accepted as the norm.

I recently visited Ocean Academy in Bayville to talk to the students and tell them my story. Ocean Academy is a non-profit small therapeutic school that offers educational services to students that need a more structured, nurturing environment to be successful prior to being able to return to a public school setting.  As part of Ocean Mental Health Services, they work cooperatively with students and their families to provide support and services. Principal Scott Corbett, Lisa Mulhearn and the entire staff do very special work and are clearly adored by students.

I let the students know that I was where they are now. I told them that they are important and can go on to do amazing things. If I can do it, they can.

If you know someone who is dealing with a mental illness, continue to support them. Fight the stigma and do what you can to make mental illness something we as a society can talk about in an open and understanding setting.

Thanks for reading.

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