2022 Mental Health Essay Contest Awardee: Bronze

Brighter Days

Aidan, Arizona

Aidan, 2022 NIH Mental Health Essay Contest awardee

“Please! Talk to me…” For the past two hours, this was all I had been hearing from the guest bedroom, where my mom had been begging Hana to talk to her, but to no avail. This was the evening after Christmas in 2020. Hana had not said a single word since morning and also refused to eat lunch or dinner. I wanted to go into the room and talk to her, but I did not have the courage. Every time I got closer to the room, I felt a suffocating aura.

Hana is a close relative of my family. She came from China to attend a boarding high school. After the COVID-19 breakout and school lockdown, Hana moved to my family’s house, and my mom treated her as her own daughter. Little did we know that Hana had been fighting depression, which had gotten worse due to quarantine. My mom found her sobbing on the phone one day and realized that she was on a teen suicide prevention hotline, a number from the back of her high school ID. My family tensed up after realizing this. I subconsciously started avoiding any interaction with Hana because she radiated negative energy and was easily offended by anything I said. She missed her morning classes often as she could not get up in the morning.

That night, after trying all options and not being able to figure out why Hana would not talk or eat, my mom called the state behavioral health crisis system. Two social workers came to help, hoping to have Hana open up, but it was a fruitless effort. At 10 pm, an ambulance and a fire truck came with a paramedic, emergency medical technician (EMT), and a few firemen. Hana must have gotten scared seeing the crew, and finally started answering the questions, saying she was fine. She begged to not be taken to the emergency room. Unfortunately, she did not have a choice anymore. I was just confused about what had been going through her mind for the past 15 hours. It was a long night as I was worried sick about Hana and my mom. They came back home early the next morning. The doctor was not able to find anything wrong. Hana was released with a few numbers for counseling and psychiatrists.

Hana was my first close exposure to severe mental health issues. As I reflected on my own disapproval of Hana’s depression and the shame I felt on her behalf, I realized that a mental health stigma truly exists. Many people are afraid of being labeled “crazy” for simply seeking support from a therapist. Thankfully, Hana was one of those who dared to break the stigma. She has been on a recovery path after seeing a psychiatrist. I knew my mom expected me to be more supportive with the situation, but I was helpless. In reality, the quarantine days were hard enough on all high school students like myself who suddenly needed to adapt to a new routine in isolation. One of my school friends texted me a few times asking if he could talk to me about his depression. While I really wanted to help him, I felt uncomfortable as I myself had been negatively impacted. In the end, all I could do was suggest that he talk to the counseling office. I felt compelled to do something for those “drowning,” but I did not want to be dragged into the water.

Mental health issues sounded esoteric to me, but I was intrigued. In the summer of 2021, I eagerly looked for programs with in-person interaction. Teen Lifeline, the hotline Hana used to call for help, came to my mind. As a free and confidential peer-supported crisis hotline with teens, clinical directors, and specialists running it in a local office, Teen Lineline had saved Hana from her suicidal thoughts in her darkest days. Its mission is to improve teen mental health by utilizing teenagers as a resource, based on the philosophy that teenagers rarely enlist help from adults and more often turn to those their own age. In our state, suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people. Over the past 2 years, teen Lifeline has seen a 50% increase in suicide hotline calls from teenagers expressing lack of hope, depression, and anxiety.

Teen Lifeline trains its peer counselors on active listening skills, communication skills, and intervention strategies, exactly what I needed to help people like Hana. I signed myself up to go through the rigorous 72-hours training. In October 2021, I started volunteering as a certified peer counselor at Teen Lifeline. I was also selected to join the teen mental health cohort of the Governor’s Youth Commissioners, which provided me an opportunity to work on mental health issues and advise the Governor. Our current project is a survey targeted at high school students to find out what kinds of messages about mental health education are most psychologically acceptable.

While I was writing down my journey, something tragic happened to my high school in April 2022. It is the darkest month in my high school’s history because two young lives were lost within five days of each other during spring break, one reported as suicide while the other with circumstance unknown. As we carry on with heavy mourning hearts, it is restorative to experience the community support that surrounds all of us as our school offers us space for reflection and conversation. I stepped up and offered to help my school foster peer-to-peer connections for students to have a safe place to share their concerns. My passion towards becoming a researcher on psychiatric disorders is stronger than ever.

I hope that the dark clouds of mental health illness will soon pass, and that the radiant stars of love, understanding, self-expression, and the hope from our medical professionals will shine over our communities and bring brighter days for those who suffer from mental health issues.

NIH recognizes these talented essay winners for their thoughtfulness and creativity in addressing youth mental health. These essays are written in the students' own words, are unedited, and do not necessarily represent the views of NIH, HHS, or the federal government.

Page updated September 20, 2022