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First Hand Mental Health Stories: Breaking the Silence, Building Connection

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences a mental illness each year. That’s a significant portion of the population dealing with conditions like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.


Suicide is a critical concern, especially among young people. In the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 10 to 34. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2019, there were 6,211 suicides among youth aged 15 to 24.


Mental health is a topic that affects us all, yet it remains shrouded in stigma and silence. In this blog post, we’ll explore the power of sharing first hand personal experiences and how to share experiences safely in order to help overcome stigma, and create a safe space for healing to begin.


Let’s dive in!


1. The Impact of Sharing Personal Experiences

When we share our mental health journeys, we create a bridge of empathy. Personal stories resonate with others, reminding them that they are not alone. Whether it’s discussing anxiety, depression, or coping mechanisms, our vulnerability can inspire hope and healing.


In this Sharpen film, young people share stories of strength in order to break down some of the stigma barriers.

Humanized stories actually have shown to increase and improve mental health literacy among young people (Wyman et al, 2010). We have seen this directly with our Sharpen Mental Health Literacy program for youth -- 98% of college students who participated in the Sharpen Mental Health Literacy program recommended it for other adolescents and college students. Why? Because there are nearly 100 videos featuring young people sharing stories of resilience and strength.  

2. Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Health

Stigma perpetuates myths and misconceptions about mental health. By openly discussing our struggles, we challenge these stereotypes. Let’s normalize conversations about therapy, medication, and self-care. When we break down stigma, we pave the way for understanding and acceptance.


Sharpen has created over 4,000 videos capturing real life, first hand accounts (along with strategic, professional guidance).  Our films are not only created in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, they are then measured through research study to ensure our films actually do what we intend them to do (support healing and decreasing stigma). You can learn more about our research here.

In the below Sharpen clip, experts and individuals with lived experience speak directly about cultural stigma that could impact whether a person seeks mental health treatment.


3. The Benefits of Sharing Mental Health Experiences

Sharing isn’t just cathartic; it’s transformative. When we express our feelings, we release emotional weight. Moreover, our stories can educate others, fostering compassion and empathy. By sharing, we contribute to a collective healing process.


Since we deployed Sharpen in 2014, we have had tens of thousands of individuals engaging in mental health literacy modules that feature powerful stories of resilience and healing.  These modules have led to over 4,000 people connecting to mental health resources, community supports and to healing.


4. Creating a Safe Space for Sharing

There’s a safe way and not-so-safe ways to engage in mental health listening campaigns – especially with young people.  First, we must create safe spaces for people to participate.  To do this, we listen without judgment.  We encourage active listening and avoid offering unsolicited advice.  Most importantly, we recommend designing listening campaigns that follow evidence-based practices in public health, community-based participatory research and mental health literacy.


5. Promoting Mental Health Awareness Through Storytelling

Stories captivate hearts and minds. Gaining insight through humanized stories can add to the power of a mental health awareness campaign.  We recommend highlighting resilience, recovery, and growth in the story being featured.  Here is a great example of a Sharpen campaign that highlights the powerful story of one very brave young woman (and the amazing nonprofit organization that is helping her heal) …


6. The Importance of Professional Support

While peer support and engaging peer storytelling is vital to decreasing stigma around mental health, professional guidance is equally crucial. Therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists offer evidence-based strategies. Seek help when needed, and encourage others to do the same. Let’s dismantle the notion that seeking professional support is a sign of weakness.


Encourage a Culture of Sharing

Let’s break the silence around mental health. By sharing our experiences, we create a ripple effect of understanding, compassion, and healing. Together, we can build a world where mental health is discussed openly, without fear or judgment. Learn more about how Sharpen can help you craft perfect, humanized stories that improve resilience and mental wellness, here.


Remember, you’re never alone on this journey. If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek professional help or contact 988 or other helplines. You matter, and there is support available.


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