Individuals discuss mental health at forum in Lee County

Many people don’t speak about their personal struggles with mental health, and mental illness and health are hot topics, particularly in teens.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly half of all Americans are diagnosed with mental illness at some point in their lives. And it’s an issue that impacts millions nationally as well.

Teenagers and adults gathered at the first held “Normal is Overrated” forum in Lee County to talk about mental illness and how they are dealing with it in their lives.

Rayleen Jose, 17, attended the forum. For years, she was taught to keep her battle with anxiety, depression and self-harm a secret.

“It’s very hard to try to get people to listen,” Jose said.

Jose was joined by many, who shared their stories and listened to her own.

“I kinda realized that talking about it openly has impacted me in a lot of really positive ways,” Jose said.

The forum was was an idea sparked by 17-year-old Carly McGovern.

“For me, the idea came from my own personal observations in dealing with mental health myself,” McGovern said.

The event was organized in partnership with Healthy Lee Coalition of SWFL and Kid’s Minds Matter, along with other community partners.

Dr. Paul Simeone, vice president of Lee Health and medical director, said programs like this forum are necessary today, especially in the wake of mass shootings at schools such as the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“There’s not enough discussion about this,” Simeone. “There’s not enough talks sufficient to reduce mental health stigma. There’s still a lot of it around, and I think people have a lot of feelings about coming out and being vulnerable about it.”

And student speakers at the day’s event hope they are making steps forward to change the stigma surrounding mental health talks and addressing it.

“Everyone has issues that they go through,” Jose said. “I hope that how candid I have been about the struggles I’ve faced gives others the courage to speak up.”

Reporter:Breana Ross
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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