Mental Health Monday’s  – How Talking about Mental Health Saves Lives

On Monday, Sept. 13 Dr. Paul Simeone, Vice President of Mental and Behavioral Health, Lee Health; Chantel Rhodes, Child Advocate, Golisano Children’s Hospital; Kelly Maguire, Student Advocate; Damini Parkhi, Student Advocate; and Grace Smith; Student Advocate talked about how to empower loved ones and friends to care for their mental health and well-being through talking and listening.



“Normal is Overrated”

“Normal is Overrated” Saturday, Sept. 18, 8:30 a.m. to noon via Zoom is a community event intended to reduce the stigma and create awareness surrounding mental and behavioral health challenges faced by students. The third annual event is student run and includes four student speeches about their own experience from local high school students, and a Q & A panel with students and professionals.

Damini: Last year I was a speaker, now I’m helping to organize. History: Fort Myers Progress Panel was formed by Carly McGovern, who was then a junior in high school. The goal of the Fort Myers Progress Panel is to allow students to lead and participate in conversations about hard-to-tackle topics, as an advocacy group for students and by students.

Grace: 2021 Normal is Overrated speakers:

  • Abigail, freshman, shares her story about anxiety, depression, terets, ADHD, self-harm, autism
  • Megan, senior, anxiety, self-harm, depression and COVID isolation
  • Castian, junior, transitioning as a transgender male, manic-depression and losing a close friend to suicide
  • Zoe, junior, anxiety, depression, self-harm and COVID isolation

Kelly: It’s important to advocate for mental health because it benefits the community at large. There’s a stigma about mental health. Being an advocate breaks that stigma through storytelling and shared experiences. It’s also about educating the community with statistics about what mental health is and how we can help. The goal is to help break stereotypes and barriers to receiving help for mental illness. As advocates, we want to normalize these discussions to make it OK to talk about these issues. It’s about being comfortable with being uncomfortable sharing our stories. It allows students who are struggling to see that there is hope and help out there.

Why it’s Important to Talk about Mental Health

Chantel: I’m proud of youth all over the world saying they are tired of having to hide their true selves, their stories and their lives. They are breaking that stigma. That’s what it is all about. We cannot change how a person feels about mental health, but we can change the language they we use that helps create that stigma.

Use person-first language: Don’t identify a person by their disorder or illness. You don’t want to call them a “burner” or “cutter” or “depressant” or “Baker Act”. Instead we want to change our language. That person lives with depression, that person lives with anxiety. We don’t want to define people by their struggles. Advocacy is important because people need to know that they aren’t alone. I’ve had my own struggles with anxiety and depression. I’ve had therapy. But the treatment didn’t happened until I became an adult. These students are trailblazers who are paving the way for others to tell their stories. It’s OK to have these challenges, to know help is available and that recovery is possible.

Simeone: The issue of advocacy and breaking down stigma is central to people getting help. Things have changed a lot in the 40 years I’ve been in the field. People are much more willing to talk about things. I’ve noticed in the audiences of these events that it allows people to begin to experience their own struggles.

Expectations for the Event

Damini: While the speakers are all so different, we realize that we all go through similar things at some point in our lives. The rewarding point of this event for me is that I get to see the growth of these speakers through the process. They are so genuine.

Also, by doing it virtually, we can reach so many people, parents and students. Last year we had viewers from about 15 different states. Everyone around the world goes through it. And the event is free.

Simeone: People use this process to own their own story. You see that in the event itself. We begin at 8:30 a.m. with talking and questions and it becomes a whole narrative that brings people along. This event is about courage and hope. These students talk plainly from the heart about what’s going on in their lives and to their families and friends.

Kelly: Watching these students have this platform to tell their stories serves as such an inspiration for all the young people who are going to be watching. These students get so much benefit from sharing their stories, but really have no idea the impact they will have on others. While I was going through my own struggles, I heard people my age or even older sharing their stories, doing exactly what these students will be doing on Saturday. It is what inspired me to get help for my own struggles and to think I could be that person for someone else one day.

Chantel: I had the opportunity to listen to some of the speeches and I was blown away. I’m impressed by the leadership these students are showing by telling their personal stories. They are excited to tell their stories about recovery.


Questions and Answers

Q: Are there any tips for becoming more comfortable with talking about mental illness or sharing experiences?

Answer: Being vulnerable and sharing your story helps others. Find someone trusted you can confide in where you can share your story. We can sometimes pick the wrong people and shutdown. It’s really important to choose well. If you are too embarrassed to talk about it, it might be helpful to go to a support group, like the one we have every Tuesday. Sometimes talking to someone you don’t know and hearing from others can help you open up to others. Sometimes the only way to do it is to do it. You are not alone. That’s the purpose of this event. So many are struggling with the same thing. It starts with courage. If sharing my story has the potential to liberate me and others, the only way to do it may be to do it.

Simeone: In all my years of group therapy sessions, I’ve never once had someone say something they experienced or were feeling that at least one other person in the group couldn’t relate to. Not once.

Q: Is there still time and opportunity for people to get involved with the Normal is Overrated event?

Answer: This year the speakers are already set. Our applications will be out in the summer for next year’s event. Register for the event. We will have a Q and A at the end with a panel with all our speakers. We can’t do volunteering this year, but apply to be in leadership or a speaker for next year.

Q: Can you describe what to expect during the Q & A portion of the event?

Answer: Any of the guests can ask any questions to the speakers or mental health professionals.

Simeone: It’s my favorite portion of the event. It distills everything that happened and becomes a conversation about what’s interesting to the audience.