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The following story features Mary S., a 16-year-old student from Massachusetts and participant in our Deconstructing Stigma: A Change in Thought Can Change a Life mental health public awareness campaign. Told through the eyes of its participants, this campaign boldly challenges the misconceptions of what those with mental illness look like and is intended to spark conversation. To learn more, visit DeconstructingStigma.org.
It was the last day of eighth grade when Mary came through the door of her home, excited to be on summer break. That’s when her mom picked up Mary’s phone. Mary begged to get it back. But her mom examined the messages and saw them—dozens of pictures of Mary and some other girls, cutting.
“We did it in a group. One of the girls urged that we cut to make our sad thoughts go away. It was a really stupid way to cope with the stress of school and friends.”
Mary used bracelets to cover the cuts she had made on her arms. She also had cuts on her thighs. With the help of a therapist and her high school’s psychologist, Mary began to learn coping skills. More recently, when family stress led to another cutting episode—this time with deep cuts to her hip—Mary was admitted to McLean Hospital. There, she participated in dialectical behavior therapy, learning healthy ways to manage her anxiety, including breathing techniques, going for a walk, or listening to her favorite punk rock music.
“The good thing about being in the hospital was there were kids older and younger than me, and it’s a relief to know others are going through the same things.”
Perhaps Mary’s best therapy is her sister, Abby. Abby, too, struggles with anxiety as well as major depressive disorder.
“She sits with me and talks to me. We’ll cry together over stuff. She also makes me laugh. We go on Dunkin’ Donuts adventures or just ride around in the car with the music cranked up.”
Mary also enjoys playing street hockey with her older brother. She works hard in school. By being public about her struggle with anxiety, she hopes others will also step forward and talk about their mental health issues, defeating the stigma that surrounds it.
“Mental illness shouldn’t be treated like a joke. It’s not just “in your head” or “a phase” or something that can be managed with a happy pill. It’s a serious medical illness, and a lot of people have it. We should make it a priority to help each other.”