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VIDEO: Young mental health advocates help, can relate to struggling teens

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Dealing with mental illness at a young age comes with many challenges. One of them can sometimes be getting parents on board to help receive treatment. That was one of several topics of discussion on WNED—WBFO’s Facebook live event Thursday night titled ‘Living with Mental Illness at 22’.

WBFO reporter Nick Lippa spoke with youth peer advocates with Mental Health Advocates of Western New York.

Julianna Hill, who has worked as an advocate for two years, said there’s still a general stigma.

“A lot of them say that, ‘My parents don’t believe me. They think I’m doing it for attention. They won’t take it seriously when they say I want to be on medication or I want to go to therapy or if they start threatening suicide or something like that and they really feel suicidal,’ and their parents are saying, ‘Oh you are just doing this to do it,’” Hill said.

Hill was hospitalized at ECMC and the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center at age 16.

WATCH: Conversation with Julianna Hill and Kaitlyn Ledzian...


Hill was very active before school, taking extra classes and doing several extra-curricular activities like musicals, dance and all collapsed on me – led to burnout and couldn’t manage the time.

“Before I was put in the hospital I had a full idea that I was going to be in a strait jacket and it absolutely was not that. It has to just do with if they’re willing to support you and they’re willing to learn and grow with you as they go through this,” Hill said.

When Hill first received treatment for her anxiety and depression, she didn’t talk to anybody in recovery.

“The closest thing I had to peers were the other patients in the hospital with me. And we can’t really help each other much less ourselves,” she said. “Then there were the staff and your family members who they say they understand but at the same time, well (they’re) not in a hospital. (They’ve) never been in a hospital before in this kind of circumstance. So I always really felt kind of alone.”

Hill said an art therapist helped her while was struggling to verbalize how she was feeling. Art acted as a healthy outlet.

Now as a youth advocate, Hill can help others.

Kaitlyn Ledzian lives with anxiety, bipolar II and PTSD. She said without a support group, she doesn’t know if she would be here today.

“Through my teenage years especially, I was going through a lot of impulsive and irrational behaviors, shoplifting, drug use, eating disorder behaviors, just anything that made me feel something because for so long I was feeling nothing,” Ledzian said. “Without those supports that I had in place, I really don’t think that I would have successfully graduated from high school. I don’t think I would have even thought about college.”

Ledzian was diagnosed with generalized anxiety order in 9th grade and experienced panic attacks two to four times per day.

Before you turn 18, you can’t be diagnosed with a mood disorder because the brain is still growing. So Ledzian was diagnosed with a mood disorder not otherwise specialized.

Once she was 18, she was diagnosed with bipolar II, PTSD and borderline personality disorder.

Now as an advocate, she helps lead community support groups, goes into hospitals and hosts group therapy sessions.

Ledzian said sometimes it’s easier to speak to others outside of your family and friends.

“It’s not like we have it tattooed on our foreheads. Like, ‘Hi. My name’s Kaitlyn. I have a mental illness,’ to everybody I meet,” she said. “I can see somebody struggling and I want to reach out. Definitively there’s a little bit of a barrier. That disclosure part is super big.”

Social media continues to play a major contributing factor when it comes to mental health among teens. Hill said you can find what you are looking for, whether it’s positive or negative reinforcement.

“If you’re looking to be depressed, you’re going to find stuff that will make you depressed,” Hill said. “If you are looking to feel positive and hope, you’re going to find it. You just have to weed through stuff. You have to want to find the positive stuff to find it.”

But there’s additional factors to social media that stand out among youth. That includes certain fads, poverty and drug abuse according to Ledzian.

“I was using drugs a lot when I was younger. I don’t really hear a lot about certain things like the opioid epidemic. It’s so big right now,” Ledzian said. “I never knew anyone personally when I was growing up until probably about 18 that I didn’t know anyone that used heroin.”

Here are some links for resources available in the community:

Mental Health Advocates of WNY



Crisis Services

And the number for Crisis Services-- 716-834-3131

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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