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Chloe McNamee, 17, a leader of Children's Hospital Colorado's Youth Advocacy Board, a group of 20 metro-area students who raise awareness and advocate for mental health, struggles with anxiety and depression. She also is an ambassador for the hospital and has testified to pass a bill that would increase suicide prevention training for professionals who work with youth. She lost her brother, who had bipolar disorder, to suicide. She says she has attempted suicide several times. She wants to become a clinical psychologist to help others the way she has been helped.
Her brother’s death by suicide “was a huge thing that really impacted me. But at the same time, it was like `I can’t just wallow in this sadness. I feel like I should do something about it.’ So my mom, actually, is on the adult board for the PMHI, which is the Pediatric Mental Health Institute, so she told me about this youth board. I wanted to be a part of that just because I want to help so that somebody else doesn’t have to go through that — or they have the resources so they don’t have to reach that point.
“I struggle with my own mental health stuff, which also makes me want to do more ... but I am getting to the point where I can function, which is good. It’s just a process. It’s not linear by any means. It’s hard, but I’m hopeful that life gets better.”
Having a mental illness “has lead me to be more empathetic with other people and develop friendships that are deeper because we can talk about these things, and I’m more open with that. That’s a huge part of me — developing relationships with people and being able to connect on the emotional level, and understanding where they’re coming from when they’re dealing with hard stuff. Also, it’s just driven my passion for advocacy. I didn’t really have anything that I was super passionate about before, and now this is something I can really focus on — and it means a lot to me. I always want to do more with it.”
“In the ideal world, I would like to create more access for mental health treatment just among different demographics of people because I know that there are a lot of barriers, especially if you don’t have money to pay for it. It’s expensive. It’s not offered in some places ... So I just want to increase access for everybody no matter what circumstance they’re in. I think that there are some racial barriers and stigmas within communities ... In any way I can, I just want to make it better for somebody.
“Having a mental illness is not a choice. It’s hard to talk about, but we need to talk about it. If you ignore it, it’s not going to go away. You can’t just sweep it under the rug because that’s how it gets worse. Just reach out to somebody ... You can be helped, but you have to take that step of asking for help. It’s hard for other people to know, so you need to advocate for yourself and express your own needs.”
“I think our generation has a lot of different experiences than other generations. Especially with social media, we’re more aware of a lot of things because it’s so accessible. I think we have a different perspective. I also think that there are a lot of kids who are really invested in activism and just changing the way the world is ... I think that we have a lot to say and it’s challenging the social norms in a way that people haven’t done before.”
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