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  • Aidan Bergel, Senior at Woodgrove High School

Wiping away the stigma

As a society, the most important thing we can do is to wipe away the smudges marking mental illnesses as a “stigma”. To brand someone who has a disorder that he cannot control with a word meaning “disgraceful, shameful” or even, “a bad reputation” is unfair. Wiping the stigma associated with mental illness requires a pioneering group of individuals from the community who aren’t afraid of raising awareness and stepping into other peoples’ comfort levels. Making bystanders think about their opinions and actions, putting the issue into peoples’ face is what it takes for the issue to come to light for others. Similar to peaceful protestors from the civil rights era, pioneers in mental rights awareness would be the voices for those suffering from mental illness but unable to tell their tale. As a society, to reduce the stigma of mental illness, we need to work together as a community addressing the issue and politely forcing it into awareness to those who may not acknowledge it. In our community- Loudoun County Public Schools- has lost four students alone this year to suicide. Investigation found that some of these students were diagnosed with a mental illness and were unable to reach out for the help they needed. Maybe if there wasn’t a stigma associated with mental illness, we would have not lost these contributors to the future. Their future was lost …

Our Schools have students suffering: whether it’s daily anxiety attacks to seasonal bouts of depression or more, the debilitating impact on the individual is real. Anytime someone acts out of apathy rather than empathy, the stigma thrives. The lack of compassion for others is what has led to our losses each year. The entire community must become aware that ignoring mental illness is what keeps it “alive”. Though a solution can be brainstormed, any idea is only as great as its performance. Our community will be plagued with mental illnesses unless we begin the conversations that lead to help. Ghosts of mental illness are apparent everywhere. Whether it be the ongoing anxiety, the depression our students’ lives, the suicides that strike our schools…

I am proud to be a part of The We’re All Human Committee started at Woodgrove with the help of the Ryan Bartel Foundation. We’re All Human has started the conversation and has taking the steps towards wiping away the stigma. Organized in the fall by the Woodgrove guidance department, students were brought together to help Mrs. Bartel finalize the website she created. We were told the story of Ryan and his life that was stolen by suicide. From his story our mission came about: to create a safe haven for struggling youth and to begin addressing a solution to the stigma… the stigma of mental illness.

At the time of our start, only a website for the foundation had been established, and at most, she figured we as a group could help create artwork for the site. However, as so many passionate perspectives came together wanting to make a bigger statement, the ideas expanded. As the year progressed, our projects developed. Word travelled and new people began to join because we had touched others inside Woodgrove who wanted to join the cause. We started to eliminate the stigma: we came together and put the facts out there that others were afraid to acknowledge. We have finalized a website. We just finished our walk and from here will continue to eliminate the stigma of mental illness.

As you walked passing the signs made by Woodgrove students and faculty, each step you took was a step towards recognizing and understanding the reality of those bearing all they cannot say. With each step of each of you that participated, another step was taken towards understanding, towards realization and compassion for those you may or may not know who hide their struggles. As we raise awareness, we work to erase “the stigma”.

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