“Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world” – Jean Houston
Pierson Phillips is an 11-year-old advocate from America who speaks openly about living with Tourette Syndrome and Mental Illness. This essay is an adaptation of his “Changing The Story Part 1” speech from Spring 2016.
In order to change the way people see mental illness, we need to change the story. Because right now the story is that people diagnosed with mental illness are weak, damaged, dangerous, or faking it. We hear about mental illness in the news only when someone has done something bad.
Well, I live with mental illness every single day. I am strong, I am courageous, I am giving and kind, and I am changing the story on mental illness for myself and for others.
Mental illness affects 1 out of 5 children between the ages of 13 and 18.*And 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 24.* Early intervention and acceptance is important. I am 11 years old and I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures. I also have Tourette Syndrome and my tics can become worse due to my mental illnesses. So it’s important that I understand exactly what my diagnoses are and how to treat them because I have to advocate for myself. I have to be aware of when I need to help myself and how to treat my illnesses. Ignoring that reality could be fatal, and this is why I am changing the story.
People don’t think of mental illness the same way they think of physical illness. But my neurologist told me that the mind and the brain are one and the same so we should treat people with any illness the same way. If you were to ask a group of people what words come to mind when they hear “mental illness”, they might say crazy, psycho, or dangerous. But ask them what they think of when they hear the word “cancer” and they might say, Survivor, support, or courageous. The problem with this perception is that both are serious biologically-based diseases. And both can kill.
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-24. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, and birth defects, COMBINED!
This is why I’m changing the story. Because this isn’t okay. Suicide is obviously a serious reality for young people when you look at the statistics.
By changing the story, I hope to change those statistics. Standing up and speaking out on mental illness is not something that past generations did proudly. That has to change. My mom says that the stigma surrounding mental illness is due to ignorance. That the only way to end the stigma is to educate and speak out. I stand up and speak out because mental illnesses are real. They do not make me less of a person. In fact, they make me strong because having Tourette Syndrome and mental illness has given me a purpose. I know that my voice can make a difference for not just me, but for others too. And that is what I am doing. I am making a difference. I am changing the story.
The story is that it’s okay to have a mental illness. And please notice that I didn’t say that it’s okay to be mentally ill. That’s a part of the old story. The one that no one talked about. The fictional one that told us mental illness was bad and that we weren’t worth the time to understand and help. I am NOT my diagnosis. But I’m also not ashamed of my diagnosis. Just like having any other illness, there are days that living with my mental illnesses suck. But there are also days where everything is fine and wonderful.
Educating others on what mental illness is and isn’t empowers me. Each time I speak up more stigma is erased. But to finish my story I need help. I need more people to stand up and speak out because I can’t write the ending alone. I have learned that when we work together our voices are louder, so please help me by telling your story in order to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Tell your story to let people know that access to mental healthcare needs to be easier. Tell your story to help others feel less shame in asking for help. Tell your story because it might just save someone’s life. As for my own story? It is just the beginning.