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Erasing the Stigma

A Youth Advocate's Courageous Mental Health Journey

Over the summer, we had the privilege of sitting down for an interview with Ms. Addison Rose, Youth Mayor of Washington, DC. Addison is now a Freshman at NC Chapel Hill and will be honored with the Youth Courage Award at The Preventive Measures Foundation Inaugural Awards Gala in February. Addison used her high school externship requirement as an opportunity to share her mental health journey to encourage and empower students at DC Public Schools. The tour encompassed a total of 6 schools, and included guest appearances from Jalil Hackett, a pro boxer with Mayweather Promotions, Former NFL player and now mental health advocate, Marcus Smith, and Dr. Bruce Prunell, Psychiatrist and Founder of The Love More Movement, Inc. The tour was supported by The PM Foundation. Addison is a remarkable young woman with a bright future ahead, but she came through a dark time as she struggled with her mental health. This is her story.


PM: It’s a pleasure to meet you, Addison. Thank you for taking time to share your story with us. What you're doing, of course, aligns perfectly with our mission, which is primarily about prevention. We love that you're taking it into the schools and speaking to your own peer groups to, you know, kind of spread a message of “it's OK,” you know? So,  why don't we just kind of start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got here?


AR: My name is Addison Rose. I am 18 years old and I just graduated from Episcopal High School, and I have the opportunity and honor of serving as the Youth Mayor of Washington, DC. This is my second term. I'm also the President or the Immediate Past or outgoing President of the Eastern Region of Jack and Jill of America. I ran for a position called Ward 7 Representative, where I was able to kind of advocate for the issues that Ward 7 residents were facing and then I kind of wanted to take it on a larger scale. For the longest time, I've been advocating for gun violence, voting rights, women's reproductive rights - issues like that, and a lot of the rallies and marches, I've had the opportunity to speak at.  But very recently have I started really talking about mental health. Not because it's not like something that I'm very passionate about, but because it's taken me time. Not only to kind of find my voice, but also find how I can implement my story in the way that I advocate for others.


So, I used to struggle with, you know, mental health issues and challenges really bad. I mean, I had depression and I still struggle with anxiety, but it's not nearly as bad as it used to be when I was around 13 years old. And that is also when I attempted to end my life. So that was just a huge wake up call for me and my family to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make sure one another is OK. Not that it was something that they really ever – I didn't allow anyone to notice. We can put up whatever facade as much as we want it, you know, we can do it.


PM: Yes.


AR: I remember, like my parents, you know, they thought they went wrong when it was nothing they could have done. I wouldn't have allowed them to see, but I was in a very depressed state and so I was hospitalized in a psych ward for a while. And then the next year, I was meeting with different therapists and psychiatrists, like talking about what I was going through.


And so that was, you know, 8th grade year. So, it's taken me about 3 years - 3 1/2 years, to be able to kind of talk about it to other people on such a large scale. The reason that I felt it'd be so important that I do that is because I know I'm not the only one that's went through that or is going through that. And everyone always sees me and they see all of these cool things that I'm doing, they're like, “Wow, your life is just so perfect.” And I'm just like, no, like, it's not. And it wasn't always like this.


I wasn't always the individual that I am today. It came from a place of such darkness. And so now my goal has been to use my platform to help other teens and youth who could be struggling or feeling the same pain as myself.


PM: Love that.


AR: Sorry, that was a lot.


PM: No that was great! That was great. I got all the context, and what really stood out to me that you said was, “I wouldn't allow anyone to notice,” you know? And I think, man, that is such a powerful statement because mental health, mental illness, that doesn't really have a face or a look. Do you know what I mean? I think you have, you know, people that you can clearly look at and see, OK, they're experiencing some type of mental challenge, but most people are just walking around every day. We’re just interacting with each other on a day-to-day basis and there's a mask that we wear, you know? You just kind of keep showing up, and you keep showing up. So, the fact that you were you were able to hide it until you couldn't anymore - I think it's so, so important that you're emphasizing that for all intents and purposes, “I looked fine.”


PM: So, this tour, tell me a little bit about how this how this initiative came about. Did you come up with this idea on your own?


AR: So like around the beginning of my senior year, like I swear, this idea just popped up in my head and I was like, wouldn't that be cool if I just went on tour to different high schools? Well, I don't even know if I had refined it even that much.


If I just went on tour kind of telling my story and encouraging other kids to do the same or want to be able to do the same. And so this was kind of just an idea floating around the beginning of the school year, and I really thought about it, and I was like, this would be amazing. Like if I could actually execute this how I want to execute it, this could turn out really, really good. I needed that one project that took a while to come into fruition but the end result – it was just so worth it.



I am just so much better at speeches than I am at talking off the top of my head. And so I figured that, you know the time that I was speaking, telling my story, I would, you know, do a speech.


It wasn't as formal as most of my speeches are, but it allowed me to hit every point necessary. So, it was able to resonate with students. And then I met a boy named Jalil Hackett at a mental health gala that I had spoken at. He introduced himself and told me that he thought, you know, my story was really inspiring. He almost cried. And I told him about the fact that my tour was starting the following week and I was naming some of the schools I was going to, and one of them was Cardoza High School. He was like, “Wow, I graduated from there.”


So, he ends up kind of telling me about himself. He was like, “Yeah, I graduated a year early at the age of 17, so I could go pro.” Now he’s a pro boxer boxing with Mayweather Promotions. So, he's doing the dang thing and he's grown up in this area where I'm speaking to a lot of these students. And so, I was like, “Wow, would you like to come with me?” He was like, “Sure.” And so, he comes. And then I'm like, well, maybe we can make this stick. Then I also, I reached out to a guy named Marcus Smith, who used to be in the NFL, played for the Eagles, Seahawks and Commanders, but he literally – it took him attempting suicide for him to tell his team, like, “I can’t do this anymore. I need help.” And so, him taking that initiative, it’s huge.


Then I created this team, like these 3 different people from 3 different backgrounds, doing 3 different things, and I felt like that was so important because, you know, my story may not resonate with the little boy in the room, who's an athlete. You know, I'm saying like, it's perspective.



AR: So, I thought the different sorts of perspective the stories were coming from, the wider the audience, I'd be able to reach. Then I also had a guy named Dr. Bruce Prunell. He is a mental health advocate and he’s a psychologist. He has a foundation or organization called, “Love More.” And he's just like, you only really see him in the community. Like he's going to seniors’ homes and stuff like that, talking to them about, you know, the importance of mental health and stuff. And he's really good with people. He's a very big people person, so I thought he would be great. He was able to join me at a couple of schools. Next thing you know, I mean, like cameras and all kinds of stuff was showing up and it just it was going really well. I was having students reach out to me afterwards, telling me how my story really resonated with them. I was having such meaningful conversations with these kids after I spoke.


Some people were telling me their stories and how they've wanted to give up. I had one girl who came up to me after and she was like, “Can I just tell you I really needed this?” She said, “God works in such magical ways because I really needed this right now.”


So, it was just moments like that that made it all so rewarding and worth it. So yeah, that's kind of how that happened. I mean that it all stemmed from me understanding how much pain I was in. Like I mean, the pain just felt so unbearable at one point in time, and so it made me wonder, like, you know, that other people could potentially be feeling the same pain as myself, if not worse, you know?


PM: Yes.


In order to at least help some kids potentially not get to the point of where I was or even worse, end up taking their own life, it felt like it was my duty to do this. And so, I'm glad that it worked out.


PM: Well, that is just remarkable and I'm sure I'm sure that the schools, the kids, everyone, you had an opportunity to attend, you know, benefited from that.


AR: Yeah, there were adults coming up to me, saying that.


PM: I bet. It’s just not something that we're talking about enough. What do you want students and young adults, you know specifically, what do you want them to know about mental health?


AR: It’s not one and done and it is an everyday journey, but the only way to truly heal is by acknowledging it. You're not gonna get anywhere by keeping it tucked away somewhere. Then I think you know sometimes what can happen is you're in such a dark place and then stuff starts going ok in your life and you're like “Oh, what was I doing? That was nothing. I'm fine.” Then maybe a couple weeks later, a couple months, a couple years, that darkness haunts you. Or that trauma that you were facing in that moment comes back up, resurfaces.


And so that's why I feel like it's so important that you have to get it out. You have to talk about it or else it could potentially haunt you down the road and it will pull you back. You think that you're being successful and your life is going great, but it could really hurt you in the long run if you don't acknowledge it and get it out. So, it's not a one and done kind of thing. It's an everyday struggle. But as long as you're making that effort to acknowledge it and work forward, it puts you on the path to truly healing.


PM: You told me a little bit about, you know, just some of the response that you received from the students and the faculty. Were you surprised by that?


AR: I was because honestly, I didn't think a lot of these schools would be very receptive. I thought it sounded good, but then when it came to actually time to go do it and I'm looking in this crowd of students who would rather be anywhere else. And then where they were, I was like, OK, maybe this won't work out how I want it to. But I mean, I also thought it was so important that I be doing this because I know how receptive we are to hearing things from people our age. It's one thing when an adult comes in the room. We're like, OK, next, but when it's someone our age, we actually believe that it's a little bit more true. So yeah, it was - it went both ways. It was a little difficult at times and it was surprising to me, but as I kind of went to more schools I was like, OK, I'm kind of understanding how this dynamic works. I kind of just have to meet them where they're at.


PM: How can young people advocate for their own mental health? You know, with their parents, to begin with, especially if they grew up in a family where you know what happens at home stays at home or we don't talk about that here, or mental health is not even part of the conversation. You know, how can a young person even kind of start the conversation or advocate for themselves in that way?


AR: So yeah, I feel like taking the initiative is probably one of the hardest things to do. And especially if it's, if it's not something that they could feel like they can do on their own, I would definitely say lean on others. Lean on that other adult in the family that you feel closer to that could potentially relay the message for you or a friend. Umm, who could start the conversation while you all are in the room with a parent or your parents? Or you can lightly refer to it. Say you know you haven't been feeling very well. Your mental hasn't been feeling very well and you don't - I think a lot of times we're scared of like the extreme.


So, you don't have to say, “I've been feeling like I wanna kill myself,” but kind of easing your way into it. “I think I may want to talk to someone.” Those, the smaller steps kind of towards how severe it could be I think would go a long way for you and your family.


PM: OK. So tell me, what's next. Can you see yourself doing this again? Or like what what's next for you?


AR: That's what I'm still in the process of figuring out. I mean, and the reason I'm not necessarily nervous about what's next is because I never in a million years would have thought I would be doing what I've been doing these last four years of high school and so I can only imagine what the future holds. But I do know that I will be studying political science on a pre-law track at UNC Chapel Hill in the fall, and I do still plan on continuing advocacy work as much as possible.


What that will look like? I'm not sure, and if, I mean, maybe I will go on tour again. I mean, I don't know. I won't have my titles anymore. Maybe I'll have different titles. But I'm just very optimistic about what the future holds. But I know no matter what it will hold, I will be doing what I love, which is helping others, whether that's me going into politics, I'm doing public service, or going into law, becoming a civil rights attorney. We’ll see. I don't know.


PM: Anything else you would like to share?


AR: Just the one thing that I've been saying this entire month is for everyone just to remember that it is OK not to be OK.


PM: OK, no that's a period, that’s great.


AR: Period.


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