By Jeanne Neuwirth, LCSW, Pathways Clinician and SADD Club Advisor
Kristen Harootunian was a regular 9 year old girl in the eyes of her peers and a high achieving “A” student in the eyes of her teachers. The truth however, she shared, was that she was struggling with undiagnosed depression and anxiety.
Harootunian, from Minding Your Mind, was recently invited to Carteret High School as a guest of the school’s Pathways program to share her personal story. Minding Your Mind works to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues, and to get the word out that mental health disorders are treatable and treatment is available.
While her home, and indeed her life, looked typical on outside, inside, Kristen was a caregiver to her mother who had alcoholism, anorexia, and suicidal ideation. Her father was often out of town on business and her brothers were busy with sports, and so she dealt with this burden alone.
In 2009, Kristen’s mother died by suicide, and Kristen’s life descended into a dark place. After her mother’s passing she began skipping school, and her grades dropped from As to failing. Negative thoughts flooded her mind, and she began to cope with her pain through self harm, and alcohol and drugs. She also developed an eating disorder. Kristen was sent for therapy, but did not have a good rapport with her first therapist, and so didn’t talk to her. At age 16 she said she hit rock bottom.
A turning point for Kristen occurred when she was sent to Rehab. Through Rehab and through ongoing work in counseling and in support groups, Kristen said she learned that self-harm and substance abuse were negative coping methods for her pain.
In work with her therapist, she learned to replace those behaviors with positive coping methods, which for her included journaling, working out, walking her dogs, deep breathing, and talking to people. Kristen noted this took time and hard work on her part. It also took making the effort to find a therapist with whom she had a good connection.
Kristen advised students to identify three trusted adults they can talk to, and being honest with the therapist about what they’re thinking and feeling. She urged students to talk about whatever is upsetting them, “If you’re too much in your own head, give it to someone else.”
With the tools and support she received, Kristen has been clean from drugs and alcohol for 3 years, and has not engaged in self harm for more than 2 years. She graduated from high school and is now a full time college student. Her story is a message of hope for anyone suffering with depression, anxiety or any mental health issue.
Pathways School Based Youth Services Program provides counseling to students of Carteret High School and Carteret Middle School. Students are encouraged to seek services for any issues causing distress in their lives.
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