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Teens share message: ‘Silence does not bring change’

By Staff | Sep 17, 2019

“We are not here for a before and after picture of mental illness,” said Carly McGovern, a senior at Fort Myers High School and founder of the Fort Myers Progress Panel. “Instead, we are here for the truth that lies in between that.”

The Fort Myers Progress Panel held “Normal is Overrated” to help share that “silence does not bring change” when dealing with mental and behavioral health, especially for teens. The program took place Sept. 7 and had about 150 attendees.

The event featured food, informational booths, friendly therapy dogs, a Q&A with mental health professionals and the personal stories of local teens who have dealt with and continue to deal with their own mental health issues.

At the event, McGovern was awarded the Leadership & Excellence Award by Healthy Lee and Kids Minds Matter for bringing her vision of “Normal is Overrated” to life.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 20 percent of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition. In addition to this, one-half of all chronic mental illnesses begin by the age of 14, according to NAMI.

“Today is a culmination of the lessons I’ve learned and a whole lot of guidance on many people’s parts,” said McGovern. “Most importantly, today is something that should have been done a long time ago. We just so happen to be the bunch to do it today.”

McGovern spoke about her own health issues.

“In many ways I believe that this mission started when I chose recovery over my eating disorder, coming up on five years ago,” said McGovern.

In addition to McGovern, six other teenagers shared stories about their mental health journeys. The high schoolers who spoke at “Normal is Overrated” were Marina Curry; a senior, Rayleen (Sowie) Jose; a senior, Katelyn Ryan; a senior, Kieth Marino; a freshman, and Tianji (Didi) Zhang; a senior.

Being a teenager today is difficult enough and struggling with one’s mental health makes it even harder. The teens spoke about depression, anxiety, self-harm, recovery, and learning to accept oneself.

The high schoolers shared stories that were both painful and uplifting. They shared these stories with the hopes that their courage would show others that they are not alone, while “destigmatizing” conversations surrounding mental health.

Izzy Childress, a senior at Fort Myers High School spoke about her realization that mental illness will always be a part of her life.

“Mental stability is not a destination – you will never be ‘fixed’,” said Childress. “But I believe that is the beauty of life. Imperfection causes variation and variation is what makes the world go around.”

Childress has Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar disorder. She began feeling like things just “weren’t right” in the seventh grade. She missed an entire quarter of school. She said that she felt like she wasn’t living but was merely trying to survive.

Childress spoke about living with crippling anxiety and depression while also dealing with her mother’s life-threatening cancer.

After years of trial and error, she went to a psychiatric hospital where she stayed for a few months. It was then that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and her recovery began.

“I didn’t have anyone at home after my mother died. I needed a strong support system,” said Childress. “I now have one, and I wouldn’t be alive without the support system that I have now.”

“Silence does not bring change. If I helped at least one person today, being courageous and talking to you all today was 100 percent worth it,” said Childress.