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Breanna Kennedy sits on stage with purple lights and curtains behind her
by Breanna Kennedy

My name is Breanna Kennedy, and my mental health journey has been the most harrowing, yet empowering experience in my life. I was 11 years old when I had my first suicidal thought. I was 12 years old when I tried to kill myself the first time. I was just a kid when I felt as though the world was crashing down on my entire body and I was responsible for keeping myself afloat. I felt as though I was completely alone having to face the world myself and that was a terrifying feeling.

Suicidal thoughts just do not start at this magical age of adulthood. It often starts with middle and high school students. During those ages, students are typically trying to figure out the world and understand themselves. Combine that with the overwhelming stress that often comes with school and home life, and it could be overwhelming for anyone. From my own experience and throughout my advocacy, I have learned that it is frequently a trend for people who children look up to quickly dismiss their feelings without a second thought, because “kids do not have anything to worry about.” These dismissals not only discourage young people from speaking out, but the invalidation often makes them feel as though they must deal with these situations on their own.

Whilst working at my local Boys’ and Girls’ Club, I often told the young people, , “Your problems and experience should be validated. You all have small bodies with big emotions, so if something is important to you, then it should be treated as such.” Age does not stop the hardships of life. Young people seem to feel the impact the hardest and also seem to be left with the least amount of support.

Things I endured in middle school and high school still affect me today and have left an impact on my life. I truly wish I had someone to validate and guide me in my formative years. That wish drives me to try my best to make sure young people, and my peers, do not feel the heavy feeling that I felt a few years ago. Experiencing mental illness at such an early age and continuing to learn how to navigate it has not only molded me into the person I am today, but it also fuels my true passion of mental health advocacy.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or mentor, young people need you. To comfort them. To validate them. To listen to them. To love them unconditionally and give them the resources they need to thrive. If I were to give a piece of advice to my younger self and the thousands of young people experiencing suicidal thoughts or feeling alone: I see you, and you are not alone in these hardships. Please talk to someone, whether it is your parent or trusted adult, because you do not have to deal with this alone. Your life matters. You matter.

Breanna Kennedy (she/they) served on the MHA 2021-2022 Young Mental Health Leaders Council and is a junior at the University of South Carolina-Aiken as a molecular biology major. She works as resident mentor on campus, a mentor at her local Boys and Girls Club, and a student leader within several organizations and her campus.