My Turn: Leaving a legacy of light and love

Preaching an inspirational song of love, faith and courage, nationally acclaimed mental health speaker and activist Jordan Burnham recently came to Oak Ridge High School accompanied by a chorus of strength and motivation. His words touched the hearts of each listener on that miraculous afternoon.

More than 100 students attended Jordan’s afternoon session and many others came to the evening session for parents. Only a few parents came in the evening, demonstrating how we need to continue to raise awareness in our community — especially among parents.

Jordan shared his powerful story of surviving a jump off the ninth floor of his apartment and how he continues to cope with depression. He ended with a strong, encouraging message for students: Be open and honest and to take care of their mental health. He reflected on how he didn’t and missed his senior year due to being hospitalized after surviving the jump.

Depression, as Jordan described, takes time and doesn’t just go away like a cold. He said he still takes his medication and copes with it, but is learning to manage it well. In regard to seeking help, he explained that finding the right therapist is a process and it takes a while to become comfortable talking with someone. However, he also emphasized the importance of being able to trust and talk to someone — it helps take off the weight we put on ourselves.

Optimism is one of our best friends. Jordan advised teens to be more optimistic and not to be too disappointed when “Plan A” fails and to know what makes us happy. He shared his more positive outlook on life from his second chance and how he is fortunate to still be alive.

For parents, Jordan offered some helpful advice as well.

“Being supportive” is essential, but sounds vague to many confused and conflicted parents. Jordan advised parents to ask how their kids feel. “‘How do you do?’ is not the same question as ‘How do you feel?’” explained Jordan. “Asking how someone feels means so much more than the typical question that prompts ‘good’ or ‘OK’ replies.” He also stressed for parents to ask how they can help or just listen if that’s all the kid needs.

After the presentation students thanked and talked with Jordan regarding mental health. One student described how teens need to open up and mental health isn’t talked about enough. Another mentioned how we need a better mental health culture. It should be easy to talk about mental health. Many noted that the best part about Jordan’s speech was his openness on a traditionally stigmatized issue and said he made the subject more approachable. Students said they enjoyed the speech since it was eye opening, interactive and told from an engaging, motivating and personal level.

Jordan agrees we need to talk more openly and honestly about mental health. He further encourages schools to promote an active and positive mental health culture and open conversation on the subject.

We find time to talk about sports teams hundreds of miles away from home and energy to devote to hour-long discussions on the latest fashion trends. Maybe, for a change, a friendly little chat about how we feel and what bothers us and how to deal with stress and stay optimistic would be the perfect complement to a warm mug of morning coffee or afternoon tea.

Tiffany Zha is an Oak Ridge High School student who is working to promote positive changes in teen mental health.

Special to Village Life


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