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“I had an amazing, unconditionally loving, and unbroken family,” Chiara writes in the essay. “I went to good schools. I lived in a beautiful neighborhood. So why, then, did I always feel empty? I was surrounded by love, but I always felt less-than, out-of-place, restless, irritable, and discontent. Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking that I was simply ungrateful. Yes, I was. But a lack of gratitude wasn’t my only problem. I was the problem. I was not born a happy person.”
The piece was a follow-up, in a sense, to the video the Brooklyn teen released to the public on Christmas Eve, in which she discussed her treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, and her current sobriety. That brave openness led to Chiara's being honored outside of D.C. in Maryland on Tuesday by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for serving as a positive example for other young adults.
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“One year ago, I was lost, confused and overpowered by depression, anxiety, addiction and fear. One year ago, life didn't seem worthwhile,” she said during her speech. “One year later, here I am and that is nothing other than a miracle." Various media outlets have praised her essay for being “moving and open” and “extremely brave.”
Experts note that a prominent young person like Chiara coming forward with her very personal tale of mental illness represents a major moment in the fight against social stigma.
“Instead of internalizing stigma and any unwarranted feelings of shame, self-disclosure can take away stigma's power,” Bob Carolla, spokesperson for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, tells Yahoo Shine. “Attitudes are still changing, so it's important to recognize that young people who are speaking out are showing great courage. They should be commended and supported.” It’s especially true for young people, he notes, as “adolescence is a time when young people are forming their identities” and are “sensitive to criticism.”
The hunger for outspoken role models is so deep, in fact, that when young people do speak out about depression, word travels far and wide. Last year, 19-year-old comic Kevin Breel gave a highly personal TEDxYouth talk on the topic, and it quickly went viral. “Real depression isn't being sad when something in your life goes wrong,” he said. “Real depression is being sad when everything in your life is going right. That's what I suffer from. And to be totally honest, that's hard for me to stand up here and say. It seems to be hard for everyone to talk about. So much so that no one's talking about it.”
Someone who has talked about it consistently is Demi Lovato, who revisits her adolescent struggles with depression — as well as drug abuse, bulimia and self-harm — in the new summer issue of Cosmopolitan for Latinas.
“It was that loneliness you get when you’re sad and it’s the middle of the night, and even though you have family and friends to call, it’s hard to pick up the phone,” Lovato, a past honoree of the Mental Health Services Administration, says in the interview. “It’s a daily thing. I treat it with medication. Not everybody does that, but for me it works. That’s what works for me — medicating, checking in with people, being honest, and being grateful for things.” Winona Ryder spoke out about her battle with depression more than a decade ago, but since then, such examples of openness have been few and far between — which is what makes Chiara’s essay so vital in the battle to change stigma.
“People usually are afraid of what they don't understand,” Carolla notes. “They distance themselves. Perhaps even worse, they make fun of it and bully it. It's a way of creating separation. Ironically, with mental illness, it's almost a way of saying, ‘That could never happen to me, I'm better than that,’ when the reality is that it can happen to anyone at anytime. That's why overcoming ignorance through openness and education is so important.” While NAMI runs an education program for high school students, more brave folks like Chiara are needed, too.
“Some people believe that it is impossible for people who come from backgrounds like mine to suffer from the diseases of depression and addiction,” she writes in her powerful essay. “They may believe that we don’t appreciate what we have, make bad decisions, and/or have some sort of moral deficiency. I am here to tell you that that is not true… Mental illness does not discriminate. However, that does not mean that there isn’t hope for each and every one of us.”
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