The Race to End the Stigma Scholarship was created by the Carlos Vieira Foundation to start the conversation about mental health. The Race to End the Stigma Scholarship is granted annually to graduating high school seniors who are interested in mental health awareness or who are willing to share their story about mental health in an effort to end the stigma. We are excited to announce the ten recipients of our Race to End the Stigma Scholarship for the 2019-2020 School Year!
Click the tabs below to see each of the essays submitted by our scholarship recipients.
*The essays are in no particular order and are being kept anonymous*
As a young kid, I wore superhero shirts, caps, shoes, hats, anything I could get my mom to buy me. One day, at McDonald’s, wearing my favorite Superman shirt and cap, I became my older sister’s superhero. Why? Did I save her from choking? Give her my extra chicken nuggets? Nope, I asked for ketchup. You see, my Dad asked my sister who was 7, to go to the counter to get some. Little did we know at the time, but my sister suffers from anxiety and depression. So, the immediate look of fear and her slow shake of the head to Dad showing she couldn’t get up went unnoticed. Dad wasn’t one that you disobeyed, so when he gave her “the look”, she gripped my hand under the table. Together, we got up and went to the counter. I was barely able to see over the counter, but I stood on my toes and asked the McDonald's worker for some ketchup, while Karen stood silently behind me. As we walked back to the table, my sister looked at me and quietly whispered, “Thanks, Superman”.
My parents and I did not learn about my sister’s silent torture until Karen went away to college. As a kid/teenager, all the signs were there: nail biting, fear of sleeping in her own room, being overly self-critical, fidgeting, binge eating when left alone and the endless stomach aches. I don’t think my parents were being bad parents, they just weren’t aware of the symptoms of anxiety and Karen probably didn’t know how she felt was different.
Karen is lucky, after 18 years, she is finally getting the help she needs. Many don’t. She is attending a college that openly talks about the stresses and pressures students and especially student-athletes feel. She is also surrounded by friends who care about her health and well-being. After Karen’s first full on public panic attack her freshman year, she had friends who didn’t shun her or disown her. They rallied around her. I think this was because the campus had provided an awareness of mental health issues. Karen was able to have open discussions with a few close friends and found that she was not alone with her battles. Karen and a few friends decided to take advantage of the mental health professionals that are employed by the college. Oh, it wasn’t easy for Karen to make her first appointment, in fact, a friend had to call and schedule it for her. It was even harder for her to actually walk through the counselor’s door. That act of courage took a friend walking with her the second time she tried to keep her appointment.
Three years later, Karen sees her counselor once a week and is also under the care of a medical doctor. She still has anxiety and depression, but she controls it now, it doesn’t control her. I still try to be her Superman when she calls. We’ve grown close through the last few years, but in all honesty, she’s the superhero now. She has not only taught me and our family about mental health, but she’s shared her story multiple times with student-athletes at her college. Because of her, I feel confident as I head off to college, knowing if I have mental health issues, it’s ok to get help. Hey Wonder Woman, thanks!
I used to think that people who spoke out about it were just looking for attention. For me, it was an uncomfortable conversation that consisted of unavoidable awkwardness and lots of silent sobs. Basically, I thought it was completely made up, didn’t exist. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I would find out that it was very real, and I would (terrifyingly) experience it first hand. This “it” I keep mentioning is my way of referring to anxiety. It was the beginning of the spring semester of my sophomore year, and in the blink of an eye my world had sunk into a world of darkness with no hope of return. Or at least it seemed that way.
That year I faced an unexpected challenge that ultimately resulted in me leaving school. Not to share something too personal, let's just say my character was questioned by a group of adults I once trusted, and with that came rumors spread about me. It was not just one rumor that was created by a twist of words, but enough of them to fill the deepest body of water. I was overwhelmed by the amount of lies being told and how unwanted I was by a community that used to put me on a pedestal. I was now being thrown to the wolves with no remorse. I felt betrayed and hurt so much that I began to feel this way in every aspect of my life. I did not want to continue with the pain and sadness that was going to school, so my family and I decided it was best for me to complete my sophomore year of school online. At first I was embarrassed of myself and what I was feeling because I didn't know exactly what it was that I was feeling. I later realized that I had been experiencing major anxiety.
I kept this to myself for a long time, I did not tell my parents about how I was feeling. It wasn’t my fault, though. At the time, I could not put into words how I was feeling. I still felt embarrassed that I separated myself from everyone around me. I missed out on rallys, prom, social events, all of it. I hated feeling like I was missing out on everything. I was angry at the adults who caused this and I was angry at my friends for believing the lies. I felt so alone and I lost so many friends during this time. I kept asking myself, "what's wrong with me?" I did not understand why I couldn't even think about going to school without crying, or how what happened to me could get me to this point in the first place. I began to question myself the same way everyone else questioned me. "Maybe I am wrong" I thought. "Maybe everyone else is right about what they're saying about me. Maybe I misinterpreted." At this point I was in a black hole of confusion.
For a time I found it a challenge to even get out of bed in the morning. I will never forget one night I was sobbing on my bed and I actually threw my phone across my room I was so upset. I turned to see my bible on my nightstand. I remembered my dad once told me that all my questions can be answered in this book, and all my worries can be comforted in here as well. Remembering that I opened the book up and I kid you not I landed on the exact page I needed. It was Proverbs 3:3-7. It reminded me to always trust God and his plan and not what I think is best for me. By submitting to Him, I will fear no evil. It was so powerful to me that in that moment I decided I was going to let this motivate me and prepare me for the next step in my life. I began working harder than ever before whether it be school or sports. I took care of myself physically and began to feel more comfortable in my own skin. I accepted this setback and let God use me for something greater. After this hard time in my life, I was named league MVP, earned above a 4.0 GPA, surrounded myself with amazing people and spent more time with my family. I was opened up to new hobbies and realized I was much more than I thought I was. I intend to face each challenge with the same intensity and drive in the future. I am thankful for this experience even though it was tough, it opened me up to a world previously unknown and began my walk with Jesus and search for truth.
As for the conversation about mental health, it is no longer an uncomfortable subject to me. I encourage anyone to at least talk about what is going on in their lives good and bad if they are not able to put into words what they are feeling inside. To the people unsure of what is going on with them, I know you feel trapped and lost, but opening up to someone you can trust, even if that someone cannot physically speak back (for me that was Jesus) will open the door to overcoming “it”. This battle is not meant to be easy, it is probably the hardest one you will ever encounter. Have faith! It is easier said than done but it is still possible. Lastly, if you are someone who has overcome anxiety, don’t be afraid to speak about your experience. You never know, you could be saving someone’s life.
In September 2018, the climate of my school changed. I remember the cold fog in the morning while moving through classes, and the faces of the people I passed in the hallways. Some signaled fear, sadness, or bewilderment. The fog wasn’t just the weather that day. It was the beginning of a continuous overcast washing over the culture of the student population. That morning, the innocence of our precious, safe school became tainted with grief; we had lost a fellow student in a tragic accident. One life was gone too soon and unfortunately, it was only one of the numerous tragedies that would create a large gap in our spirits.
Over my last two years of high school, four student alumni deaths have taken place. The effect these tragedies have had on all students has evolved since 2018. Ever since the death that year, I’ve frequently heard reflections from classmates and teachers. The stories everyone tells of these beautiful souls made me feel more connected with the students who died. Our school needed a safe space to tell these stories. Grief and its effect on mental health is not widely recognized as well as it should be. I decided if my school wasn’t going to provide enough resources for these memories, I would use my platform to spread them.
Ever since I joined my school newspaper club, I knew how important stories were in inspiring activism. Last year, I joined a local organization in Merced called We’Ced, which moves to change the stigmas surrounding youth by telling uplifting stories about the community. Through this club, I am not only able to collaborate with youth from diverse backgrounds, but am also able to create material to express my ideas. Our group produces a yearly publication. When we decided on the theme of mental health, I immediately thought of the grief my school was feeling and knew that I could speak for change by providing a callout for solutions.
My story for We’Ced’s publication has led me on some difficult paths. I’ve interviewed people closest to the loved ones who have died, as well as students and staff affected by the loss. I’ve also reached out to district members for statistics on handling grief, and school administrators who serve as a support system for mental health. All of these gave me an overwhelming amount of stories, information, and ideas producing one large investigative piece.
There is nothing that abolishes stigma more than the human voice, which is shown through journalism. For me, journalism epitomizes change. The freedoms of speech and press in our country allow us to be heard. When people who feel as though they don’t have a voice can share it through the media, it inspires activism in a community. Stories are the foundation for change because they make people feel a human connection. Mental health isn’t something to be brushed aside. It is prevalent in society and deserves the same awareness as any other catastrophic issue in America.
Mental health has been a much bigger part of my high school life than I thought it would’ve been. Starting high school, I had several factors that contributed to me becoming depressed. I didn’t have any close friends that I could talk to openly. Second, I was struggling with my sexuality and my battle with self acceptance wasn’t an easy one. The third, and maybe most important thing I didn’t know was that I was genetically predisposed to mental health issues. I had no idea that most of the adult members of my blood family were on medication, including both my parents. Depression in my mom’s blood and anxiety in my dad’s meant I was a cocktail of sad chemicals as I hit puberty.
I think it took me so long to figure out what was wrong with me was I didn’t know what depression looked like. I thought that depression was only for people who had gone through traumatic experiences. Sure, I was gay and had to deal with that, but my family accepted me and I even got a loving girlfriend. I had a brief sexual assault as a freshman too, but was that a good enough reason to not have the will to live? I’ve always had high standards for myself and to me these were not good enough reasons to be depressed.
I spent many of my nights crying and texting my girlfriend about how bad I was feeling. She was supportive and no matter how bad it was she didn’t give up on me. Fortunately, one night everything changed. It was one night when I was telling her about my problems tearfully as normal, when I decided something. I decided I was tired of feeling like this and that I was going to tell my school counselor the next day everything. Transparency was something I was deathly afraid of. I decided that I at least owed it to myself to be honest with someone about what was wrong. So I confessed everything to my guidance counselor. And I was honest. And indeed she tried to send me to a crisis center and instructed my mom to take any sharp objects away from me just in case. It was one of the lowest points I have ever felt. I was put in therapy shortly after.
Now, I have been in therapy and on medication for almost two years. And I’m not ashamed of that in the least. To any of my friends that I’ve seen struggling similarly to how I did I recommend therapy or talking to somebody qualified. It’s not the most comfortable subject, but I like to think that if I can change one person’s life by helping their mental health, then it’s worth the awkwardness that these conversations present. I still struggle with bouts of depression and anxiety, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come with my mental health and how I am now better equipped to deal with my emotions.
How are stigmas created in the first place? How do people acquire the notion that mental health isn’t important? How do people think that showing emotion is a weakness? How do people believe that depression is only a “phase”? Stigmas are mutations. Their slimy bodies incubate in a crevice of wrong information and ignorance before they’re born into peoples minds. Simply put, stigmas are a result of misinformation.
I will admit, I have had stigmas on mental health as well. Not long ago, I believed that mental health was an easily treatable aspect of your overall physical health, whether it was a change in mindset or scenery or some counseling. It wasn’t until I sought out information, particularly first person account, that my notions of mental health were corrected.
I run a podcast called We The Students Podcast, where I interview students, staff, and community members about a wide-range of topics from agri-education to local politics to philosophy. It was mid-November, around the time when there was an article circulating about the prominence of mental health issues in public schools. This paper clarified that nearly 80% of all students will undergo some form of mental health problem. I was jarred by the vast majority, and sought to understand why this number was so significant. I took the opportunity to invite a close friend of mine, Wendy, to come onto my podcast and discuss her experience with anxiety disorder. We had an intimate conversation about the inner feelings of anxiety, about panic attacks so severe they suck the air out of you. She described the spontaneity of such attacks, how uncontrollable they are, how sudden, too. A day could be passing by completely normally before a wave of fear would hit like a semi-truck. The more we spoke, the more I sympathized with those who deal with these issues constantly. I was humbled to finally understand what some of my peers undergo each day.
What surprised me, however, was the feedback I got from publishing this episode. Students and teachers messaged me expressing similar shock hearing the first-person view on mental issues. Parents, especially, expressed gratitude for getting a better glimpse at what their children could potentially go through. Their feedback motivated me to continue the saga to elucidate mental health stigmas, to educate my audience with first-person accounts of victims, and to help fight the onslaught of misinformation on mental health.
My journey is that of an audio journalist. To this day I am taking steps to combat mental health stigma by interviewing students of all backgrounds about their experiences with mental health. I have spoken to Joel, who uses optimism as a daily cure to depression, to Vivian, who turns to religion as solace whenever her mind turns dark. I hope these stories will educate students, staff, and parents on the truth behind mental health the same it had done for me.
I remember walking home from my elementary school with my mom, telling me she had news about my little brother. At that time, my family had noticed he was experiencing problems with learning at a normal pace and wouldn’t steadily communicate at the age of three. He was silent and loved to line up his cars. After running tests with specialists, my mother told me that they came to the diagnosis that my little brother had autism. As the news settled, I knew that as his big sister my biggest challenge would be overcoming the barrier of being able to connect with him. My brother’s autism was no problem to me, but learning to form an emotional connection was one of the hardest things while growing up. My brother, Lukas, didn’t like being touched, was mostly silent and kept to himself for awhile. I tried talking to him and pushing him outside like any other average kid however he wasn’t interested and continued to stay inside. It wasn’t until I visited his day care that I realized he learned his habits through songs and cartoons. Now instead of trying to push lengthy questions and conversations, I learned to start from the very beginning.
I began to sing nursery rhymes and basic songs such as the abc’s and counting numbers to connect with him. He began to open up a lot more when I wasn’t forcing him to do things he didn’t like and settled to his level of comfort. I did however encourage him to learn through songs and rhyme and went out of my way to remember which episodes of Mickey Mouse he liked, so that I can explain the lessons learned at the end of each episode. Now about ten years later, Lukas lets me hug and hold his hand. He loves to talk about his favorite movies or the new lego set he’s building. Our bond is so strong that he defends me when our dad tries to jokingly pick on me saying, ”No, not nana! She’s my big sister.” Hearing those words, I knew that I had overcome that barrier and fear that I wouldn’t be able to connect with him. Due to Lukas’s autism I learned to become his biggest advocate and he has taught me to grow up faster in order to understand that those with autism shouldn’t be treated any differently. They just need the extra love and care to connect with them. Lukas has had the biggest impact on my life. I would never call it negative because the words “big sister” remind me that I’m the light he looks up to while he’s the light that glows in my heart. Everything regarding Lukas has been nothing but positive and I would never change that.
Mental health is one of the most difficult topics for me to speak about, much less write about. For the past four years, I have never been comfortable talking or writing about my ongoing battle with my mental health, until now. When I was in seventh grade, I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression. At the time, my family and I were going through severe financial issues, which affected me more than anyone thought it would. I started to become extremely closed off and isolated until I no longer wanted to associate myself with anyone. It was during this time where my mom noticed these differences and took me to see a doctor, in which I received an official diagnosis.
As I transitioned into high school, my anxiety only worsened and got to the point where I was experiencing panic attacks on a daily basis. The fact that my anxiety was so out of control made me feel even more isolated than ever before. Since I was unable to control my anxiousness and ongoing negative thoughts, I turned to the only thing I had control over, which was my eating. My anxiety and depressive state of mind led me to become extremely conscious about my body, weight, and every little imperfection. Thus, I began to limit my food intake until I was hardly consuming anything at all. At the beginning of my ninth grade year, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa after I was rushed to the hospital due to my body finally giving up on me. I was forced to endure two hospitalizations before I was stable enough to return to my regular life, in which I began to see a therapist.
Up until this day, these issues are something that I am still battling with, and they have affected my life in so many ways. I have been struggling with my anxiety, depression, and eating disorder for over four years now, and though I am still not fully recovered, I have come to terms with the fact that I am simply a work in progress. Finally seeking out a therapist has helped me control my emotions and negative thoughts to the point where I am no longer constantly in a depressed state of mind. With the help and support from family, especially my mom, and friends, I am slowly becoming a happier and healthier person once again. And though I am not at the place I would like to be in terms of my health, I know that with the continued support of my loved ones, I will get there soon and achieve my goals. Before, I was so used to living in doubt, thinking I was never good enough, and having such a negative perspective towards life that I was slowly giving up hope. But with all the hardships I have suffered through regarding my mental health, I have finally learned that my life is worth living for. And I am enough.
Today, I will be exploring my experience with mental health and how it leads to my career choice. Ever since I was younger, I knew that my goal was to continue my education after high school and make my parents proud. For most people this would keep them grounded and determined, but in my case, it resulted in a lot of pressure. But as I explored my mental health, I realized the passion I came to cultivate for psychology and how I could bring awareness and prevent the stereotypes that come with it.
One of my struggles that not many people know about is something that occurred during the summer going into my junior year. My mental health took a sharp turn for the worst and took a straight nose dive into depression. I had struggled with my anxiety since middle school, but was not diagnosed until I reached high school. Thankfully my counselor was able to help me and provide coping mechanisms and by my sophomore year I thought I was able to control my thoughts and emotions. As the school year ended l soon came to realize how terribly wrong I was. I felt so alone in a place full of students and people I once called friends, yet nothing seemed to be going right. My grades in Calculus began to drop, my friendships were deteriorating in front of me and it seemed like no one understood what I was going through. Until finally, dreaded thoughts entered my mind: I no longer belonged here, I didn't fit in this place I once called home. This is when I realized my depression had gotten worse. Thankfully my mom picked up on my signs, and was able to talk me out of suicidal thoughts and I decided to give life a second chance. My efforts to continue my story, to keep pushing past all my hardships and baggage helped me come out stronger than ever. I'm now a strong, independent woman who has grown from her past and is ready to tackle the future. I want to help others like me, by counseling them and helping them see how beautiful life can be when you are able to take control of your mind again. Therefore, my goal has always been to give back to people and teach them that seeking help is okay. We don't have to go through this journey alone like our culture may depict.
To conclude, I am not only an A honor roll student who has tested her limits inside the classroom and her community, but also someone who is dedicated to helping her community in the future. I am more than what meets the eye and I hope that through this small glimpse into my reality, I have been able to shine the light on that aspect of myself.
Mental Health is and will continue to be a primary contributor to how I live my life. It is present within the way I function, move, and breathe. There are days where my ''demons” will be more prevalent within my life than ever, and on these days, I have to zone in on why I am here, what my purpose is and who I am fulfilling my life for. But oftentimes I am told: “Smell the flowers and blow out the candle." I learned that I would eventually have to face the demons that haunted me every day. If I were to forcefully dodge the anxiety I faced in hopes that it did not recur, I wouldn't face my demons with courage, dignity, and strength but with weakness, vulnerability, and fragileness. My mental stability immensely affected my academic career. I couldn't talk to anyone about the self-inflicting thoughts I had. It ultimately prevented me from focusing on being successful because of my fear of failure.
I am raised within a household where expressing your emotions was irregular. The environment consists of toxic masculinity because my family is controlled by my father. I normalized the feeling of anxiety, which resulted in a spiraling feeling of doom and being constantly fearful of the future and the present. Eventually, I confided in others when discussing my difficulties regarding mental health, which had caught up to me physically. Each of these beautiful people began to help me fight the mental illnesses I continue to fight today. I have grown to understand my mental health but have yet to learn how to control it.
Social Media can be seen to some as an epidemic that can ultimately take over the life of an individual and cause them to be in a constant state of comparison due to the seclusion of only joyful moment's people share within their lives. My perception of social media ultimately helped me understand that I am not alone when it comes to mental illnesses, this ultimately led me to become more empathetic. My mission is to spread happiness wherever and whoever I interact with to ensure no one feels the pain I did, but also being consciously aware, accepting and openminded of the people around me, for we all have our demons but in various forms. Since my experiences and struggles with my mental illnesses, I made it an obligation that I aid those who have mental illness and learning disabilities while volunteering in the Special Education Department at Farmdale Elementary. l desired them to know that they are not entering a world where they are secluded because of their willingness to be vulnerable and seek help. Any strong individual oftentimes needs it, this is the first step to creating a new world filled with change. I am that change, YOU are that change, WE are that change. I will not stop until mental health is destigmatized for my generation, and future generations to come.
“I believe this scholarship is important because it allows high school seniors to open up and reflect on either how they have impacted others' mental health or how they have impacted their own mental health. I think in society it is so easy to bottle things up when it comes to mental and emotional stability because we are told it isn't something that is vital in helping our bodies function. This scholarship allows the conversation to start, which can be very therapeutic to both the contestants and the audience that reads the entries. Mental health is a stigma, but this scholarship helps mitigate it, which I think is truly incredible.”
“I would like to thank the foundation for choosing me as a scholarship recipient. I would also like to mention, that I think it is very important to start informing and campaigning about mental health to high school students because at times offensive words and labels can be thrown around. I believe that in order to prevent such use of words like, psycho, weird, or categorizing people as OCD, and depressed, the students and community should be well informed.”
“Thank you so much for this honor! I truly believe what this foundation is doing is amazing. This scholarship inspired me to continue the conversation about mental health. Throughout my journey, I've discovered that mental health has heavy social barriers towards open conversation, with shame operating at the center. This scholarship is the first of many steps to initiate an open relationship with mental health that is becoming more and more important in our educational community.”
“I was surprised when I found it on the list of available scholarships for MUHSD students because I hadn't seen any similar ones. I think mental health awareness is a very important topic that is not talked about enough with young people. I have had many friends who are battling undiagnosed mental illnesses because they either don't have the available resources for their issues or haven't been educated enough on mental health to know that their issues can be helped. Next year many of my peers and I will be living on our own and dealing with the stresses of being alone for the first times in our lives. Having adequate mental health preparation for this next stage in our lives is essential for us to grow up to be strong, mentally and physically healthy adults. Thank you so much for this opportunity to share my experiences and hopefully bring awareness to others like myself who have battled mental health issues in high school.”
“It is an honor to be a recipient of the "Race to End the Stigma" scholarship in its very first year. I think it's very important for the younger generation to be vocal about mental health issues because quite frankly, our parents haven't been educated. We cannot expect the older generation to teach something they never learned. Our generation has more mental health issues, probably due to the ever-present social media and the go, go, go mentality of our society. We need to help each other learn the signs and ways to cope with issues that we face, which are so different from those of previous generations.”
“I believe this scholarship program and starting the conversation about mental health is important in general for high school seniors because many people deal with mental health illnesses and it is a matter that should not be taken lightly. It is crucial to be aware about mental health because it is something that deserves to be talked about more as it is an issue that is commonly not acknowledged, and people deserve the right to openly express their battles with mental health. Speaking about one's personal experiences can potentially help others who may be suffering in silence or too afraid to come to terms with the fact that they may be suffering mentally as well. Thus, I wholeheartedly believe that the conversation about mental health should be emphasized more among high school seniors, and high school students in general. Furthermore, this scholarship program is the perfect opportunity to start that conversation and allow people to express the hardships they have faced or are currently still facing.”
“I think starting the conversation about mental health, especially among high school students, is so important because when you are in high school it looks like everyone is having a great time and living their best life. It almost feels like you have to look like you are having a great time, and you are an oddball if you are feeling sad or lonely or anxious. When in reality, a lot of people are trying to make it seem like they are okay when they are not. If the conversation grows, people won't feel ashamed about what they are feeling. This scholarship program gives us the chance to do so, and I love it!”
“I think this scholarship is important because it helps get more high schoolers involved in the conversation of mental health. This topic is not openly talked about among the high school community so I think this scholarship is a good way to get that conversation started.”