The 1-800-273-8255 Movement: Ascension on Ending the Stigma


Credit to NY Daily News

Olivia Matherne, Editor

The National Alliance on Mental Health has found that “approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life” and that “1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year.”

Mental illness is not obvious. Senior Hannah Dees noted that “if you would see someone in physical pain, bleeding or broken, you would not brush it off and leave them to fend for themselves, but this is often how people react to the pain of mental illness.” People struggling with mental disorders often to not feel safe or comfortable coming forward to find help for a variety of reasons. Senior Laurel Guidry provided insight, claiming that admitting to struggling with mental illness seems to “eternally categorize them”, meaning that sometimes admitting to having struggles such as these means being labeled with this stereotype for the rest of their high school career. Senior Caroline Zaunbrecher explained that “ending the stigma starts with awareness of yourself and of the people around you. People often don’t want to recognize their struggles because they see them as flaws, but this only leads to more internal confusion and pain. The only way to heal is to bring your problems into the light.”

In recent years, younger generations have recognized this flawed pattern and started to campaign avidly toward ending the stigma against mental illness. It is a tricky tightrope trying to balance–being open in hopes of normalizing the discussions of mental illness and being portrayed as selfishly seeking attention. As a result of this societal judgement and lack of open conversations “less than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need” (The National Alliance on Mental Health). This prompted the campaign to “end the stigma.” Many celebrities have used their publicity to work toward normalizing the discussion of mental illness. Most recently the rapper Logic created and performed a bop titled after the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255) in which he discusses his own journey with mental illness.

Last week, the student body spent their chapel time hearing Mr. Roy Petitfils tell his personal experiences in dealing with mental illness and sharing advice. Petitfils, originally from Jenerette, spoke on campus last year about his inspiring journey battling anxiety, bullying, obesity, and suicidal thoughts. Both what he said and the way he spoke captivated the students. I felt attentive eyes and an unfamiliar focus in the air, which is more than can be said for most people who speak to high schoolers. Petitfils traveled through issues that students here and around the world are struggling with at increasing rates.

In his message, Petitfils briefly referenced the parable of “The Good Samaritan” from Luke chapter 10 in The Bible. He noted that the traveler who found the man beaten and left for dead did not shame him for his wounds, nor did he attempt to fix them himself. The Samaritan did, though, love him and assisted in bringing the hurting man to people who knew how to help. This is what he suggests teens do to help their peers.

Petitfils’ message was meant to inform on symptoms and signs of mental illness and also provide useful coping mechanisms. Giving Petitfils a platform to share his story on campus is the way Ascension, as a community, joins the campaign to end the stigma on mental illness. This lesson prompted conversations between students and faculty about the personal topics and hopefully created space for honest sharing. Starting these conversations is the first of many steps that must be taken toward combating the judgmental and constricting air around mental illness discussion.