When I was six, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I would fake being sick, as kids often do, but I didn’t see it as a sign of depression until I was admitted to Four Winds day treatment in 6th grade. Yes, I would fake sickness like the other kids, but I would miss weeks (sometimes months) of school at a time. I didn’t play games or jump around. I would stay in bed. If I wasn’t asleep, I was staring at ceiling. I always thought that I was just doing a really good job of faking physical illness, unaware that I just had a mental illness. Four Winds put me on Prozac (an antidepressant) which somewhat helped me get out of the house for school until I was hospitalized three times in 8th grade. I barely survived middle school, but in 9th grade, my freshman year of high school, I was admitted to Bellevue Hospital Center’s Psychiatric Day Treatment. Bellevue turned out to be my worst, longest and more importantly, last hospitalization.
I was always several steps behind other kids, academically. Part of that can be attributed to missing months of elementary/middle school every year. At the beginning of 9th grade, my mom told me I had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). A new psychiatrist put me on a new antidepressant and my first ADHD medication. The combination did not work and I was subsequently hospitalized in Bellevue for 7 months, which was the rest of the school year and summer school. It was, by far, the worst experience of my life. Even though the thought of Bellevue still makes me clench my fists, they put me on the right combination of medication. Dealing with the vindictive staff members forced me to learn self advocacy. During my hospitalization, I was invited to a mental health advocacy conference where I was shock and amazed at how openly people spoke about their experiences with mental illness.
While I had never (and still have not) felt stigmatized due to mental illness, I had also never been taught that my story should be shared or that it could help people. This led me to my high school senior project titled The Best Weapon, “a documentary aimed towards reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness.” It features myself, my friend and a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) volunteer telling our stories regarding our struggle with mental illness. Though the tagline would suggest otherwise, reducing the stigma, while it is important, was not my primary motivation for the film. My primary goal was, and still is, to encourage people to openly share their stories and talk about mental illness.
If you want to fight the stigma, The Best Weapon you have is your story.
Ming Cooke is a freshman, studying web development in the iSchool at Syracuse University. Through her battle with ADHD & clinical depression, she became a mental health advocate and created The Best Weapon documentary. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Instagram @mingrosec