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by Jeanne Neuwirth, LSW, Pathways Clinician and SADD Club Advisor
Minding Your Mind’s Carl Antisell recently gave a riveting presentation at Carteret High School as a guest of the school’s Pathways School Based Youth Services Program.
Antisell described his painful struggle with anxiety beginning in grade school and how he attempted to mask his pain, and fit in, through activities and sports. In his middle school years, he used anger as a negative coping mechanism; Antisell recalled how punching walls and yelling at teachers only resulted in piling up negative consequences, and the pain resurfaced after he had calmed down. In high school, he turned to prescription drugs to cope with his anxiety and shame, not realizing that misused prescriptions are every bit as dangerous as illegal drugs.
When he went to college he found none of the prescriptions handy that he was addicted to, and so he turned to heroin to overcome the pain of withdrawal from prescription drugs. His addiction to heroin lead to his expulsion from college and life as a homeless addict on the streets of New Brunswick for a year at age 20.
One of the most striking moments of Antisell’s narrative was when he pointed out that nobody predicts or imagines themselves becoming a homeless addict! He explained that he didn’t get there in one step, but rather in a series of 1,000 poor decisions.
Antisell hit rock bottom and decided one night that he would take all the drugs he could afford and if he did not die then he would get help. He did wake up the next day and asked his parents to help him. Antisell shared that in rehab, he was required to attend therapy. He said he had no desire to talk to anyone, believing that therapy was only for mentally ill people, but he instead found that therapy was a safe space to talk openly without judgment. He found that the therapist was able to give him tools to deal with his anxiety, as well as a space to share issues everyone can related to such as those that come up with parents, relationships and so forth. Antisell found that therapy was a place where he could work on growing into the person he wanted to become. Antisell also found that recovery was a place where he could use the very history that he had been ashamed of to help lift up others in earlier stages of recovery.
Throughout his talk, Antisell spoke of the disgrace and stigma he had felt-- he noted the definition of “stigma” is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” He decided to help others through his work with Minding Your Mind because their goal is to “reduce the stigma and destructive behaviors often associated with mental health issues.”
Importantly, Antisell strongly encouraged students struggling with issues to tell someone--reach out to a friend, a parent, or to use the resources at the school to begin on a path toward developing positive ways to cope, rather than destructive ones.
Although teens may feel alone in their struggles, studies show 20% of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition. Unfortunately, on average people wait 8-10 years between the onset of mental health symptoms and seeking help. This can have deadly consequences, as suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24, and studies show that 90% of those who died by suicide had an underlying mental illness.
(National Institutes of Mental Health, National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2014)