"There is so much I wish someone had told you."
This quote, from an anonymous teenager directed to her future self, is from a new book a group of local teenagers wrote to address their sense that there is a lack of guidance to help young people cope with mental health issues. An unfiltered view of the experiences of local teens, the book aims to help any reader, young or old, better understand mental illness.
Nineteen students from 12 Bay Area high schools who serve on Palo Alto nonprofit Children's Health Council's Teen Wellness Committee came up with the idea for "Just a Thought: Uncensored Narratives of Teen Mental Health," which will be released on Wednesday. They wanted to create a book that would document advice and anecdotes on mental health from both themselves and the broader youth community. The book includes letters written by the committee members and quotes from close to 100 teens who responded to a survey they issued to solicit more stories.
"If we are going to make progress in supporting youth mental health, we need more spaces for unfiltered conversation, as is created in the book, and for people to truly listen," said committee member Nadia Ghaffari, a recent graduate of Los Altos High School and founder of Teenz Talk, a youth mental health nonprofit.
"Just a Thought" is split into four sections, each addressed to a different segment of the community: friends, parents, educators and "me." The sections explore why and why not teens choose to reach out for help, both helpful and unhelpful responses from parents and how conversations around mental health play out at their schools, among other issues.
Throughout the book, powerful quotes are brought to life in colorful illustrations. In one, a girl wears a smiling paper bag over her head next to the text, "#mentalillness feels like I have to wear a mask every day."
In an interview, Gunn High School senior and committee member Madeline Lurie described teenagehood as "ridiculous and emotional," a time when she struggled with rapid change and countless expectations. She's been open about grappling with mental health issues -- in March, she published an article about her experience with obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety in "Changing the Narrative," a mental-health series in Gunn student newspaper The Oracle -- and hopes the book will help combat stigma around these topics.
"People don't know how to deal with mental health because it is just an awkward topic," she said. "I feel like this is just breaking the silence a little more about stuff that is a little bit uncomfortable and a little bit awkward."
Lurie said the book also helped her empathize with others who have had different experiences with mental illness. "Just a Thought" explains from a personal perspective what panic attacks, anxiety, psychosis, depression and other mental disorders feel like.
One teenager's letter urges teachers to be open to teens who come to them with mental health issues.
"We don't expect you to be experts on what we're going through," the teen wrote. "Be curious and open-minded, and be willing to admit that sometimes you don't know."
Katherine Reeves, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at the Children's Health Council, described the book's value in an introduction.
"We are confronted daily with reasons teens may hide their experiences with mental illness. The comments in this book break that barrier," she wrote. "They are raw, unfiltered, and allow the reader to appreciate both the strengths and gaping holes in the health and education systems responsible for taking care of these kids. Teens tell us in this book, in their own words, how we might help."
The Teen Wellness Committee, which formed in 2016, aims to complete one project each year to address mental-health challenges facing youth. Last year, the committee launched a digital campaign called "Speak Mindfully," which encouraged people to sign a pledge promising to speak carefully when using language related to mental health. "Speak Mindfully" aimed to foster more personal investment in respecting the personal experiences of others, and the book aims to do the same.
Another goal of the book is to empower teens to get involved in mental health advocacy.
"Our vision is that this book will start a proactive movement around including more youth in mental health advocacy and decision-making processes," Ghaffari said.
"Just a Thought" will be released at a free book launch this Wednesday, June 13, from 5:30-7:30 p.m at the Children's Health Council, 650 Clark Way, Palo Alto. The book will be available for purchase there (proceeds will support teen mental health work at the Children's Health Council) and afterwards, online as an e-book.
To register, go to eventbrite.com.
Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can call 1-855-278-4204. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454.
People can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
The link below provides more resources where one can receive help: