Devastated by Father’s Suicide, Sisters Work to Shed Light on Mental Illness
Read more...10 July, 2017
INTO THE LIGHT strives to rid the stigma around all mental health issues facing teens and young adults.
Imagine a society where people struggling with mental illness, regardless of their circumstances, felt comfortable reaching out for help; where in their worst moments, they were met with understanding, compassion and solutions; where as a result they experienced a greater level of safety, dignity and healing.
“Your illness is not your identity. Your chemistry is not your character.” Pastor Rick Warren, author of A Purpose Driven Life.
Our Dad was a loving husband, father, son, brother and friend. He was a compassionate highly functioning individual with unlimited potential, who shared his gifts with everyone. So, when he took his own life in spring 2016 at age 51, it was difficult to accept that he may have succumbed to a severe condition. Perhaps for our sake he masked and didn’t discuss it. However, many aspects of his life may have been profoundly impacted; the way he thought, perceived, coped and viewed the future could have been distorted by his suffering and anguish. Over time we have realized that a stigma comes from a lack of understanding about what drives suicidal thinking or other behavior sometimes shown by individuals tormented by mental illness.
We were blessed with an outpouring of supporting during this time when we experienced tremendous grief. This gave us the foundation to assess how we might honor our dad’s legacy; while also elevating the discussion about educating and helping victims, survivors, as well as the public gain access to treatment options. Finally, to create opportunities to move forward and engage in prevention strategies. We have unending gratitude for the friends, neighbors, and new relationships who have truly lifted our spirits during this journey.
The key findings for 2020 and 2022 from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America (MHA) indicate the following.
Among U.S. Adolescents aged 12 to 17 yrs:
1 in 6 experienced a mental health disorder.
3 million had serious thoughts of suicide.
There was a 31% increase in mental health-related emergency visits.
Among U.S. Young Adults aged 18 to 25 yrs:
1 in 3 experienced a mental illness.
1 in 10 experienced a serious mental illness.
3.8 million had serious thoughts of suicide.
Young people experienced increased challenges related to the pandemic.
1 in 5 young people reported that the pandemic had a significant negative impact on their mental health.
1 in 10 under 18 experienced a mental health condition following a Covid-19 diagnoses.
There was a 15% to 18% increase in the use of alcohol by those who drink and a 15% to 19% increase in drug abuse by those who use.
Other relevant information:
The overall suicide rate in the U.S. increased by 35% since 1999.
Over 60% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment. Even in states with the greatest access, 1 in 3 go without treatment.
There is a serious mental health workforce shortage. In the states with the lowest workforce, there is up to 6 times the individuals to 1 mental health professional. This includes psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and psychiatric nurses combined.
Tapping into youth voices is integral to the success of Into the Light. Young adults hold positions on our university boards, committees and task forces providing direction, organization and implementation of programs and collaborative events.
The Into the Light board represents professionals with experience in education, business, and mental health. Our board provides support for schools, faith-based organizations, fundraising and donor cultivation, as well as guidance and resources to improve and advance mental well-being.
There are three primary components.
l. Elevate Awareness, Engage, Build Trust
Through Peer-led presentations and large-scale community events, we engage and involve a large demographic. This includes fostering environments where peer to peer support may flourish. By empowering young people as both learners and communicators, we aim to improve the climate around mental health, connect youth to resources, and encourage help seeking behavior.
Getting involved leads to better conversations. Better conversations lead to better content that leads to better connections. Better connections lead to trust. Trust can be a potent and sustainable way to help those that have a mental illness desire to improve coping skills, help parents, friends and caregivers listen and respond effectively, and reduce the isolation a person struggling with a disease or a survivor may feel.
Matthew Wintersteen, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Director of Research, Thomas Jefferson University, Department of Psychiatry & Human Behavior advocates parents upon observing unusual behavior, ask a child if he/she is okay; use reflective listening and feedback to ensure the child trusts that the parent has a full understanding of how the child is feeling. Upon building the trust, parents can then assure the child that together we can start a path forward, there are treatments that are effective, and access can be provided.
Yeates Conwell, M.D., Director, Geriatric Psychiatry Program, Co-Director, Center for Study and Prevention of Suicide, University of Rochester Medical Center reminds us it is important if we are concerned about somebody to show we care. “The power of asking a question in a way that communicates I understand there is something wrong and I am interested in helping can in and of itself be a lifesaving intervention.”
By providing forums where conversations, connections and trust are nurtured, we may change paradigms and move more hearts, hands, advocates, influence and resources to the efforts that address, intervene and provide solutions to those challenged by mental health issues. As we do this we will fulfill our mission and vision.
“The INTO THE LIGHT (ITL) first 5K run/walk was incredible and I cannot wait for next year’s event. ITL has inspired me to become a more sympathetic and spiritual person. It helped me realize that everyone fights their own battle and we are not alone. INTO THE LIGHT has taught me to be a kinder person and not speak negatively about others. It has impacted thousands of people and it is such a great feeling to know that this is just the start.” Mike Lino
We will collaborate with other organizations. In doing so we will increase our efficiency and effectiveness, accelerate learning and distribute skills and knowledge, strengthen capacity and add depth to community impact. Our collaboration will include:
We recognize that sustainable impact is made through ongoing involvement. To the extent possible and allowable by our stakeholders, to maximize potential, we will provide premium stewardship for those who invest time, financial and other resources in INTO THE LIGHT activities. This will include:
Recognizing Into the Light through Testimonials
“After seeing hundreds of people come out to Into the Light with their own personal reasons, stories, and experiences with mental health; it made me realize we do not fight this battle alone. Into the Light had an impact by showing me there is a community of people who support, empathize, and can relate to an illness that has affected us all.” – Carly Bargmann, Rutgers University Student
“Sophia, of Into the Light, did an incredible job at presenting to Juniors at the high school where I am employed as a counselor. Her presentation combined extremely relevant information regarding mental health issues, as well as personal antidotes that left the students riveted for more information. She spent time exploring what stigma is and why it’s critical to seek support when you or a friend are struggling. Sophia explored ways students can become more active in their communities and be the ambassadors for positive change. As a result of her presentation, many students identified their need for support to the counselors. We would gladly have Into the Light back to speak with the rest of our student body and look forward to future partnerships.” – Stacy Liss, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, GSA Advisor
“I first started following Into the Light to support a friend, like many people did. After learning more about the stigma surrounding mental illness, it pushed me to rethink some of my own perceptions I was guilty of. Into the Light opened my mind to past relationships that may have been written off for unfair reasons; relationships that I could have done more to understand and help. Being a part of the first annual Into the Light walk/run was truly amazing as it helped me to feel empathetic for those who are struggling. It was eye opening to see so many individuals work to evolve themselves due to the conversation & the culture Into the Light initiated.” – Zachary Sheil
“The Into the Light (ITL) first 5K run/walk was incredible and I cannot wait for next year’s event. ITL has inspired me to become a more sympathetic and spiritual person. It helped me realize that everyone fights their own battle and we are not alone. Into the Light has taught me to be a kinder person and not speak negatively about others. It has impacted thousands of people and it is such a great feeling to know that this is just the start.” – Mike Lino
“In my role at CAPS, I have the opportunity to work with a wide range of individuals interested in supporting students’ academic and personal journey in life. In this capacity, I connected with Artemis and Sophia Mazzini. They impressed me with their passion, diligence and energy. With the support of others, Artemis and Sophia created a non-profit and a student organization on campus, Into the Light (ITL) that increases awareness of issues of mental health and suicide among students at Rutgers and youth throughout the state of New Jersey. They worked through the unique challenges of establishing the first ITL run/walk on campus focused on mental health awareness in collaboration with multiple campus departments, student groups, higher administration, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Some proceeds from this remarkable event went to the AFSP, which helped bring a nationally-recognized, evidenced-informed training called Mental Health First Aid to staff at Rutgers.
It takes a community to heal from the pain of death by suicide. People can find hope and strength with the support of others throughout life, even amongst emotional pain. I also believe a community approach focused on improving mental health can reduce the number of students struggling with mental health and deaths by suicide.” – Annmarie Wacha-Montes, Psy.D. Assistant Director of Community Based Services and Clinical psychologist at New Brunswick, Counseling, Alcohol and other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (CAPS)
“Impact; It might seem like a small word, but it has huge meaning. Into the Light had exactly that effect on my life. It made me feel as though I was not alone and helped me realize everyone is going through something. The experience said: no matter what there will be someone there for me.” – Kyle Stewart
“Walking at Into the Light was an experience I will never forget. It was a chance to see the friends I have struggling with Mental Illness participate in something they felt few people cared about. No one was alone that day and people started to realize it. Into the Light is embracing Mental Illness and talking about ending the stigma around it. It was a joyous event and I can’t wait for more!” – Zaniah Sharkey
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“This too shall pass.”
Yannah is a proud mom and currently runs her own business. After graduating with a degree in psychology, she worked in the mental health field as a social worker, therapist, and psychiatric hospital liaison. Yannah co-founded Into The Light to provide a support system for those in need and to be part of the change that is so necessary in our mental health system.
“Believe in yourself and believe in others around you. Together we will make a difference.”
Artemis graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Communications. Her passion lies in helping and motivating people and she is an advocate of physical and mental health. Artemis co-founded this non-profit to let others know they are not alone.
”You are given this life because you are strong enough to live it.”
Sophia is a graduate of Rutgers Business School as well as the former President of the Rutgers Into the Light club. Sophia co-founded Into the Light to help others understand their \own personal strength and perseverance.