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What is “100 Misfits”? Firsthand stories of student mental health challenges.

100 Misfits - Highlighting stories of depression and anxiety in students

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100 Misfits is a project I’ve been contemplating for years but only recently have had the strength to publish. 

In short, 100 Misfits is the re-telling of 100 stories of mental health struggles shared with me by students I encountered in my travels across the country advocating for more open and honest conversations around mental health.

I’ve crisscrossed the country a dozen times over the last six years, sharing my son’s secret mental health journey, a disease that eventually ended in his suicide. After each presentation, countless students approached me with their hidden struggles. They shared experiences, feelings, and challenges that many had never told another living soul. 

Their faces were different, their locations dispersed, each living in different socio-economic situations. Some had all the advantages life and parents could offer; others lived “on the wrong side of the tracks” and seemed to have the world working against them.  Some enjoyed the comfort and security that popularity and sporting prowess offer teens, while others sat alone at lunch with few friends. 

All vastly different, yet their stories were remarkably the same. Each struggled with a form of mental illness; each felt alone. For various reasons, they had a shared sense of being a square peg in a round hole, that they didn’t fit in, and that they were alone and unique in their struggle.  Essentially, each felt like a misfit. 

To make matters worse, with media images of people strapped into straight jackets in padded rooms in our minds, we’ve stigmatized mental illness. We use derogatory and inaccurate terms like “she’s crazy” as a general descriptor of someone who admits they’re suffering from anxiety or depression.  With our lack of understanding of mental illness, recognizing the pendulum of symptoms, and how normal those are, we inadvertently push people into suffering in silence. 

And so that’s the genesis of this project. To share 100 of these misfit’s stories to highlight that they’re not alone; if they’re misfits, we’re all misfits.

By shedding light on some of the experiences of these 100 Misfits, my hope is that: 

  • Students will recognize that they’re not alone – and will find the courage to speak about their struggles or be open to hearing and accepting their peers’ feelings without judgement or stigma.  
  • Parents will gain insight into what their kids are struggling with today, how it’s different from our struggles as students, and inspire us to be more proactive at educating ourselves on the subject and fostering more open communication with our kids. 

WHY AM I RETELLING THESE STORIES? 

Despite the growing media attention around mental health, students are still feeling isolated and alone in their struggles. Furthermore, my conversations with parents highlight equal ignorance on the subject. There’s a general lack of understanding of what their kids suffer from today and why.  I get it; I was one of them until it was too late.  

That telephone call from a first responder informing me of my son’s suicide is not how we should be learning of our kid’s struggles. My son’s – or anyone else’s – death by suicide should not be the impetus for students and parents to feel comfortable and adept at having conversations about mental health.  

Despite what you may feel, you are not alone. 

According to a study conducted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, one in five people experiences a mental illness or addiction problem every year. And, by the time we reach 40 years of age, one in two will have – or have had – a mental illness. [Source]

70% of reported mental health problems in adulthood have started during a person’s pre-teen or teen years. Years when the worst thing in the world is different, to be thought of as strange, or to not fit in with the crowd. No one wants to be a misfit during your formative school years, yet it seems we all are. 

Ultimately, my goal is to voice those unheard stories so that students may recognize they are not alone, stop struggling in silence, and get the help they need. 

Mental illness does not need to end in suicide. Suicide is 100% preventable.  Students simply need modern “resiliency toolkits” to manage the deluge of everyday pressures they face. They need to know they’re not alone and feel secure enough to talk about it. They need education and an open – stigma-free environment – to share their experiences, which, in turn, will lead more of them to connect with the professionals who can help them. 

I pray this project will help in that effort. 


YOU ARE NOT ALONE 

If it’s an emergency and you or someone you know is planning on hurting themselves, please call 911.  If you’re struggling, you can find other resources here: Canada  | USA

*To protect the student, the names and locations listed in this story have been changed. 

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