After majoring in neuroscience and biology, my career goals are currently set on becoming a neurologist. Of course, I am amenable to change, but the multifaceted, complicated, practically inexplicable human brain will never cease to amaze me. It could take one hormone, one rewired nerve, one second to create a problem with unforeseen complexity. Upon graduating from college, I accepted an offer working at my dream job for a year and a half between undergrad and medical school. I’m involved in a research project that has the potential to actually map out the genes and genetic markers involved in specific mental disorders. If successful, this means that we might actually be able to pinpoint the genetic causes of these illnesses and revolutionize the way we treat them. I won’t bore you with the science, but if you want to reach out to me so I can bore you with the science, I’m happy to do so.
Last weekend, I went to a launch party for an amazing starting website and non-profit organization by the name of Project UROK. What is Project UROK? In short, it’s the resource many mental illness fighters and survivors wish they had when they were growing up. It is the change we need as a society that has placed such a shameful stigma on mental health issues.
Aside from a kick-ass party with a photobooth that makes GIFs (we’re living in the future, guys!), a group of people who understood and supported founder Jenny Jaffe’s mission were gathered. Naturally, many conversations circulated around the issues of mental health, and I could actually see Jenny’s mission coming to life. Awareness was being raised, people were talking, and for the first time, no one had to feel like they were inferior or different for coping with mental health issues. For those that know me, I have never personally dealt with the horrors of depression or anxiety, so why does this issue hit so close to home? I’m not exactly sure. Maybe it’s my passion for neuroscience and psychiatry, maybe it’s secondhand accounts of my peers that struggle with mental illness every day, or maybe I’m just appalled by the fact that there are people who think it’s okay to pick & choose which diseases should be taken seriously and which should be “dishonorable” and at the fault of the individual.
Mental illness. Does it sound scary? That’s because it is. It’s an umbrella term – and one that is often brought out as a weapon rather than a medical diagnosis. It takes bravery and courage to deal with any ailment, but imagine, just for a second, that the issue is in your head… the one place you can never run away from. People living with mental illness are living with it 24/7; there is no break. No two experiences are alike, so remember: just because it isn’t your experience, doesn’t make it any less real. Through the development and release of Project UROK videos, I have learned of the difficulties people I know personally have faced. The message they’re sending to teenagers everywhere is optimistic and hopeful: it truly does end up okay. These people have been to the bottom of the ocean, but they’re back and stronger than ever. They are brave, interested, talented, whole human beings, and you will get there too.
Even though it has been a week since the party, I’m still wearing the Project UROK bracelet pictured above. Why? Because I want someone to see it and go, “Oh hey, what’s that?” and launch a discussion that could change someone’s perspective on mental health and save lives down the road. So go make an account on Project UROK’s website, tell your family & friends, tell your friends’ kids, tell them to tell their friends. Let’s put the days of mental illness defining or belittling you behind us. Let’s live in a world that accepts you and wants to hear your story.
You are okay.