Ella remembers when the stress started to take a toll.
For her, it was the transition from middle school to high school. Her family had moved several times (including abroad) for military stationing and recently returned home to Coronado. Physically, it was a familiar place; emotionally, it was uncharted and overwhelming. Her mother, a social worker, had always stressed the importance of mental wellness, giving Ella the strength to do what many teens don’t: talk about it.
On Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, local nonprofit Coronado SAFE is making depression screenings as easy as blood pressure readings with Check Your Mood Day, Live Well San Diego’s annual, county-wide event that takes place in conjunction with National Depression Screening Day.
Starting the Conversation
“Talking to my friends about anxiety and depression was the hardest thing but also the best thing I could have done,” says Ella, now a senior at Coronado High School.
Her generation is making perhaps the largest strides yet in normalizing the topic of mental wellness, with teens using TikTok and other social media channels to become mental health advocates. Celebrities and media outlets are picking up on it, too. Some may call it a trend, but it’s much more. It’s a shift toward a healthier and happier society.
“It’s easy to feel like you’re the only person feeling the way you feel,” Ella said. “But then when you talk about it with someone else, and then with the next person and the next person, you feel relieved. It’s so nice knowing you’re not alone.”
Squashing the Stigma
A topic considered taboo by previous generations, mental health is not only now up for discussion, but also ripe for redefinition. While a large and urgent focus—particularly in Coronado—remains on suicide prevention, advocates agree that early intervention is an equally important part of the equation.
“If anything, they should make these screenings a requirement in schools,” said Wayne Strickland, a retired Coronado firefighter who now dedicates much of his time to suicide prevention, working closely with the Coronado Bridge Collaborative. “People, especially teens and especially now, have to open up—ideally, long before any negative feelings become extreme.”
Georgia Chakos Ferrell, Executive Director of SAFE, says talking about mental wellness is not a sign of weakness, but, rather, one of strength. “We are here to normalize and spark conversation surrounding mental wellness,” Ferrell said. “Your emotional wellbeing is an essential part of your overall health and should be nurtured with care. It’s our mission to give everyone exactly what they need to cultivate healthy minds, bodies, and souls.”
When asked, candidly, “How much does COVID suck?” Ella couldn’t help but laugh. “A lot,” she said. “School is our way of socializing. I didn’t realize all the daily acquaintances and interactions that I’m now missing during distance learning.”
Despite the downer of missing out on the true senior year experience, Ella and her friends are getting through it, together, from afar, and finding their own ways to cope. They’re rallying around mental wellness more than ever, she says, recognizing that everyone is under the same expectations and therefore fending off the same anxieties.
With those who don’t feel comfortable discussing their mental health, it can be difficult to recognize if or when they are becoming at risk for suicide. SAFE’s upcoming Coffee Talk on Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m. will provide training on the QPR—Question, Persuade, Refer—technique that anyone can use to potentially save a life. This event is open to the community ages 16+. The QPR technique can often help an individual on the spot, as in the case of a recent instance that Strickland recalled. When he received a phone call from someone contemplating suicide, Strickland invited the person to lunch. “At the end of the meal, he thanked me and said no one had seemed to listen until then,” Strickland said. “Just like talking about it is important on one side, so is knowing how to talk about it on the other.”
Getting a Free Screening
On Check Your Mood Day, Oct. 8, high school and college students in Coronado can visit the Coronado Public Library from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for a fast, free, and confidential mental wellness checkup. Ella shared that, “Your mental health is the most important thing you have. It’s the basis for the rest of your health, from playing a sport to doing your homework and just feeling confident navigating life.”
To learn more about Coronado SAFE’s Check Your Mood Day, QPR Training, and other empowering resources tailored specifically to and for the Coronado community, visit CoronadoSAFE.org or email info@CoronadoSAFE.org.