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We need to talk about mental health in community

By Bridget Barry

May is mental health awareness month! How might this relevant for your communities? To help spread awareness and destigmatize mental health conditions, I’m seeking out stories of mental health challenges. I’m also sharing my story. I hope others in our larger JVC community feel emboldened to listen and share as well. We all need support, and we all navigate good and bad days together.

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FJVs gather at a storytelling event in Chicago in 2014.

I have struggled with anxiety, depression and trouble regulating emotional ups and downs for as long as I can remember. Most acutely starting in high school. My highs are high, and my lows can be low. There have been long periods of lows. I thought if I did enough yoga, cried it out, or muscled though eventually I could get “over it”. I thought I could somehow save myself.

During JVC, my anxiety continued and became even more acute. I felt hopeless. I don’t know if that’s what people on the periphery saw. But it was my reality.

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Two Former Jesuit Volunteers from the 2014-2015 embrace for a hug while reuniting at their JV placement Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento, CA.

Two of my community mates were there for me during a panic attack. Megan and Jillian gave me a compression hug. I started to work with a therapist. I went to yoga every day. My community was nice about it being out of my stipend. My community was supportive. I saw a psychiatrist. I was medicated. Eventually, things got better. I got better. Because some of the chemical and neurological imbalances in my brain were addressed.  

During my service year, I both volunteered alongside and served men and women who struggle with mental illness. One of my clients would sometimes make comments about being thankful for the pills that kept her sane. Me too, my friend. Me too. In this small way, I could be in relationship with those that I served. JVC often reveals connections you may have with others over the course of your year that influence you, or your community.

Today, day-to-day I am happy and healthy. I practice yoga and take my meds. Supportive family and friends surround me.

 

I am trying to do good work, and be a generally good person. It’s a work in progress. My story may include more downs. But my biggest hope for myself is that I continue to seek out more stories of mental illness. Moreover, that I continue to share mine. Because when we connect, and when we listen, we can work towards support. These acts of support and our collective efforts help to make our communities safer and stronger. As Rumi said years and years ago, “We’re all just waling each other home.”


Bridget is part of the JVC staff and served at Friends of the Poor in Scranton, PA (2016-2017). She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict with a degree in Political Science and English.