Hi, I’m Erin Gallagher, Interim Executive Director of This is My Brave, and we’re so excited to present to you this season of Our Turn to Talk, a podcast series young people who understand how important it is to talk about mental health. At This Is My Brave, we know that Storytelling Saves Lives. We hope that this podcast inspires you to Be Brave with us and to start brave conversations with your family and friends.
AV: Being a teenager is… pretty overwhelming.
Teenagers today have more mental health struggles and higher levels of anxiety and depression than all other age groups.
That’s pretty unbelievable. And what’s worse, for teens ages 15 to 19, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
We’re in the middle of a mental health crisis.
Our generation clearly needs help navigating all of this.
I know I do.
I’m Anastasia Vlasova, and this is Our Turn to Talk.
This is a space where young people like me, heal through sharing stories about mental health.
So, I just graduated high school. I’m about to start college at my dream school. You might be wondering why I interview teens about the hardest moments of their lives in my spare time. The answer, really, is simple. And it's kind of selfish (laughs).
But first, let’s get on the same page -- why does our mental health matter right now?
Maybe all generations have gone through what we’re going through. But they didn’t do it with a cell phone.
Gen Z is online. All. the. Time. We don’t know a world without it. That means at all hours of the day, we’re bombarded with things that make us laugh...and make us cry… give us a chance to see friends...and maps to see when everyone gets together and leaves us out... funny cats, school shootings, and the climate crisis…
Connected to everything and everyone and feeling more alone than ever.
So, going back to why I wanted to host this podcast?
These conversations heal me. Talking about the hard stuff, the real stuff – and to know we’re all going through it – it makes me feel so much less alone. I find myself feeling stronger, more confident, and more capable of taking on the world after hearing these honest, raw stories from my brave peers.
It’s like it bursts this facade we’ve all built up, the one that says we’re all as perfect as our heavily filtered Instagram feeds.
There’s nothing I wanna talk about more.
And it turns out, I’m not alone.
KRISTIN: My research suggests that storytelling truly does save lives.
AV: That’s Dr. Kristin Kosyluk - I call her Dr. K… she’s a researcher from the University of South Florida who studies the impact of storytelling on mental health.
KRISTIN: When people hear stories from people living with mental health conditions or substance use disorders, about their struggle with their mental health condition, about their experiences with stigma, their experiences with treatment, their recovery journeys and their stories of hope.
For those who hear those stories and witness that, they experience improvements in their levels of stigma, so they are not as stigmatizing towards people with mental illness. And they also experience improved attitudes toward treatment seeking.
AV: It’s all about the power of telling honest stories to break down mental health stigma and help people heal through radical vulnerability.
Kristin: When people who are experiencing mental health conditions, go without treatment, largely as a result of stigma around mental illness, this can result in a lot of negative consequences, including suicide. And so, in that sense, storytelling truly does save lives.
AV: Kristin says this work, and especially for teens, has never been needed more.
Kristin: What are the things that help with regard to having conversations around mental health and suicide, and what are the things that prevent them from having these conversations? And the reason this work is so important is that we can use what we learn to develop programs to help facilitate these conversations. The younger these conversations happen, the better.
If we have these conversations often and early, we’re normalizing this, so that if a young person is struggling, instead of suffering in silence, they’ll come to their family and tell them, and therefore, might get the treatment that they need.
AV: More, in a minute
[fade out music]
Hi, Erin Gallagher from This Is My Brave again.
Whenever I meet young people who are sharing their stories, I feel even more empowered to do the work that I do.
If this inspires you, too, I want to tell you how you can get involved with us at This is My Brave.
Are you a college student? Our Brave Ambassador program is a student-led movement to create a safe space for yourself and your peers to talk about mental health and to break down barriers on your campus.
And teens, if you’re feeling like this is your turn to talk, check out our website for opportunities to share your story… including how to participate in our next National Teen Show: Go to Thisismybrave.org for more information.
AV: We all feel better when we talk about our feelings. And, according to Dr. K’s research, storytelling saves lives. Like, scientifically.
So, in the name of life-saving honesty, let me get a little bit into my own story.
[beat, fade in music]
I’m an immigrant. My family and I moved here to Virginia from Moscow, Russia when I was five years old. Clearly, that was a huge change, but it wasn’t too horrible then. I missed my grandma, definitely. I used to be with her and my extended family every single day, and then suddenly it was just me, my sister and my parents. The language barrier was tough, especially for my parents, and money was tight.
So it wasn’t easy, but things were relatively okay for a while. It wasn’t until I was in about 6th grade that I really started experiencing some issues that were disrupting my life.
I didn’t really know it at the time, but I was a huge perfectionist.
I was super into tennis, and ended up starting this health/ tennis/ fitness account on Instagram.
People really liked it, I had a lot of followers from school. And all of the sudden, my brand became this health & fitness girl, and I felt like I had to live up to that.
AMBI TENNIS OUT
But the truth was, I was falling deeper and deeper into an eating disorder.
It’s hard to say when it exactly started – I sort of remember always being critical of my body from a very young age, which I think so many of us can relate to.
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But I do recall one time when things sort of exploded.
I was about 14, and my mom and sister were gone, so I was alone with my dad for a weekend. Now, our relationship was pretty bad at that time, he was drinking a lot, and I was worried about him, but no one talked about it.
I just felt so completely alone and out of control. That weekend was the first time I binged. I realized how numb and distracted I felt when I ate, so I just absentmindedly continued doing so to avoid the loneliness and friction I was feeling.
I remember going to sleep that night just digging my nails into my arms and legs, so, so mad at myself for what I’d done.
The next day, I tried to restrict my food to make up for this.
And that cycle – feeling uncomfortable, numbing out by overeating, hating myself for it, and restricting – just continued. For years. And I had so much shame about it, because, I was supposed to be this fit, healthy girl, right? I mean, that’s what my Instagram said.
I didn’t feel like I could talk about it to anyone in order to keep up this image.
So my symptoms of anxiety and depression just got worse, since I wasn’t talking about it. I was having panic attacks at school, I couldn’t sleep, my thoughts about food and weight were just obsessive.
I felt like I couldn’t face the world, like it was all too much, and I was missing so much school.
Finally, I turned to my school counselor, which was already really helpful, because it was the first time I started talking about the way I was feeling consistently.
And it was this counselor who recommended I go to an Our Minds Matter training, a mental health club at high schools across the country. This is where I was first really introduced to the entire concept of mental health, and the idea that people my age could actually be advocates for ourselves and others.
Soon, I started a mental health club at my school.
CLIP: My name is Anastasia Vlasova, and I am currently a junior at South Lakes high school… FADE UNDER
AV: And I auditioned to be the keynote speaker at the Our Minds Matter annual ball.
CLIP: Tonight, for the first time ever, I am here to share the story of my struggle with mental health….FADE UNDER
AV: I ended up telling my story, my entire mental health experience, to more than 300 people.
CLIP: The mood swings, the lack of laughter, the darkness I viewed the world with, the hate I treated myself with...
AV: I remember just feeling such incredible relief after that. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before.
CLIP: I am proud to now be a part of this movement, and to be working toward a day when adolescents will no longer turn towards suicide. Thank you.. APPLAUSE
AV: This huge weight had been released off my shoulders, and when I saw how others were reacting to my honesty, it just reaffirmed my mission. Like, yeah, this is what heals people. I want to help my generation heal
[MUSIC: fade in guitar]
AV: But I needed some help..
JENN: I gave myself the name, Bipolar Mom and wrote anonymously because I was worried about being judged and being discriminated against. The idea of stigma was really scary.
AV: That’s Jenn Marshall, a huge mentor of mine. And the founder of This is My Brave, the nonprofit behind this podcast.
JENN: So, I had started writing on a blog where I journaled my story and it made me feel better, I was processing things while writing.
AV: Jenn brought me onto the This Is My Brave team as an intern in December of 2019 and put me in charge of launching the This Is My Brave Teens Instagram account. An account run by a teen, for teens.
JENN: And after a year and a half of writing anonymously, an editor from a major website contacted me and said, "We want you to write for us, we want you to write about being a mom with bipolar." It was an amazing opportunity, and I thought, this is my chance to do my part to end stigma and put my real name on my story and own it, and show people that it's okay to talk about it openly.
The title of my first article was, What Landed Mom in the Psych Ward. So of course, it was kind of an alarming title, but a lot of people read it, and so many people reached out to me, even my own family members, and extended family members, that didn't realize what I had gone through. There was just this huge outpouring of support saying, "Thank you for being so open. I also deal with mental health issues," or, "My sister has bipolar, thank you."
And so, at that moment I knew that society needed a way for people to be celebrated in their recovery.
AV: For me, I was thinking about how cool it would be to create something that didn’t exist yet… something I knew I’d find helpful and believed other teens would too. That’s the spirit behind this podcast.
Anastasia (00:59:13): So for this podcast, I interview lots and lots of teens with a lot of different unique mental illness stories. What are some pieces of advice that you would give me in terms of talking to my peers about mental health and mental illness?
JENN: My main piece of advice is just to let them know it's okay to talk about it, and it's okay to reach out for help. I really think that every person on this planet will experience a mental health condition at some period in their life, because this is the human condition. We all have physical health and we all have mental health. And I think society needs to recognize that just because you might look a certain way doesn't mean you aren't dealing with something.
AV: I’ve come a long way and healed so much in the past few years by engaging in vulnerable conversations like the ones that you’ll listen to here. But that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle – because trust me, I do, every day. It just feels like I have tools now.
Being a part of this movement to destigmatize mental health and embrace
the vulnerability and strength within us - gives me so, so much hope.
And part of that hope comes from knowing that I am not alone, and neither are you. I’ve told you my story, and next time we’ll hear from a Baltimore teen who’s seen a lot, and shares the tools she’s learned in managing her mental health.
YOUNG ELDER: So I know how it feels to feel alone and feel like nobody cares. But I also know how to dig myself out of that hole…. I can give somebody else a shovel, you know, and I can help them dig themselves out of that hole because I know what that feels like.
AV: Like I said, there’s nothing more important to me than having these conversations and sharing these stories. And I’m so glad you found us here.
In this podcast, we’re going to be talking about some really heavy, real stuff. Eating disorders, PTSD, addiction, self-harm, sexual assault, rape, anxiety, depression, suicide. If you are struggling--or just extra sensitive right now--I might recommend listening to this alongside a therapist or trusted adult.
But just because the topics are serious, doesn’t mean this is going to be all sad and depressing. I promise, this is going to be fun. And you’re going to laugh. The incredible teens I’ve met making this series are some of the most brave, funny and wise people I’ve ever known.
The bottom line is -- we don’t need to struggle as much as we do. I’m the perfect example of that. I was living in absolute hell until I started doing the work on myself, and a huge part of that work was just engaging in conversations like this.
I feel empowered telling my story. And even more empowered by hearing yours.
[END MUSIC HERE]
[QUICK FADE IN HALFWAY THROUGH (JAZZY) THEME music enters]
Anastasia: If you’re a young person, we’d love to hear from you. What’s your story? You can go to ourturntotalk.com to share.
Ok, so maybe you're not ready to share your story, but maybe you have a question for us. We will be answering your questions in an upcoming Our Turn to Talk episode. No filters, no shame here. Submit your question on our website ourturntotalk.com
Our Turn to Talk is a production of Principle Pictures. We believe in the power and impact of storytelling through podcasts and films to build empathy and inspire change. Season One is a partnership with This is My Brave, an organization using performing arts to fight the stigma around mental health challenges and addiction. I’ve been very proud to intern there for the past two years. A very special thanks to Executive Director Erin Gallagher and Program Manager Katie Grana. Check out This Is My Brave at thisismybrave.org.
This episode of Our Turn to Talk was produced and edited by Megan Botel. Mixing by Mitch Hanley.
Beth Murphy and Jennifer Marshall are our Executive Producers. Additional support in the field and in the studio from Patrice Howard, Hannah McEachern, Ed Kashi and Ben Kolak.
Support for Our Turn to Talk is provided by The Hollister Confidence FUND, The Hershey Company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Rose-Marie van Otterloo and the Risa Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Washington.
I’m Anastasia Vlasova and I’m so excited to be on this journey with you. And don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.
Hello everyone, Erin Gallagher again. Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of Our Turn to Talk. Are you inspired by what you heard today? Are you ready to share your own story about your mental health journey? If yes, here’s how you can do it.
Go to ThisisMyBrave.org and select Share Your Story. We can’t wait to hear your Brave!
My friends at the Hershey company who support this podcast, asked me to give a shout out to the 500 teens across the U S who won Hershey's Heartwarming Project Action grants. Congratulations, and thank you for creating a wave of connection, kindness, and community where you live.
And they wanted me to share that they're doing it again. In 2021, they're awarding another 500 action grants to teens making a difference. Will you be one of them? Learn more at heartwarmingproject.com.