Changing the face of mental health for teens

This amazing girl wants everyone to read this story.

Teen Hayley Winterberg is not shy about her mental illness. In fact, she shares her story with anyone who will listen because she wants people to understand that living with mental health challenges doesn’t mean she’s “crazy.”

Not only has Hayley overcome the stigma associated with her own mental illness, she has worked for several years as a youth advocate and founding member of MY LIFE (Magellan Youth Leaders Inspiring Future Empowerment) to educate other youth about the issues of mental health, foster care and substance abuse, and to help them make positive changes in their own lives.

“There are a lot of youth who are going through the same things that I went through, and they need to know that they’re not alone,” she said. “It’s important that they have the confidence that they need to make them feel that they can overcome their struggles. I have always believed that in unity there are strengths, and all youth, whether mentally ill or not, need a place to turn, become organized, be loved, and be recognized for their potential contribution to society.”

Hayley has been recognized nationally for her advocacy work in the youth mental health system. She has received an Award from Mental Health America in Washington, D.C. Only one person is selected annually for this national honor which celebrates the life and work of a teenager who has spoken out about mental health issues to educate his or her peers and fight stigma.

Hayley tells her story in a very matter-of-fact way, which is surprising, since her history involves being surrounded by substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence and homelessness. In fact, many times, Hayley was on the verge of suicide. At the age of 16, that was an almost overwhelming life situation to handle … almost.

Hayley found help through various behavioral health services and compassionate adult and peer mentors. She made school a top priority and became involved in the mental health community, where she discovered that she wasn’t ‘crazy,’ and that there were other youth out there just like her.

She excelled in high school and graduated at the age of 16. Next on her life’s ‘to-do’ list is graduation from college, which she is scheduled to do this year from Phoenix College. She wants to continue to be a good role model for other youth and make a difference in their lives. She also continues her mental health advocacy work and is very involved on state and national levels in the planning and implementation of systemwide transformations to improve mental health services for youth.

“What a shame it would be if mentally challenged young people were written off or ignored as outsiders and somehow disadvantaged through prejudice or indifference just because of the illness they have,” Hayley said. “It’s really important to involve young people in their own recovery and in other issues facing us all. After all, if young people are the future, it might be a good idea to start including us now!”


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