You Are Not Alone in This: A Q&A with Youth on Mental Health
Navos is the public mental health provider for more than 40% of all youth served by the community mental health system in King County, Washington. It was one of the first to integrate primary care with residential and outpatient mental illness and addiction treatment for people of all ages. Navos support extends beyond treatment programs - staff help to connect clients with housing, youth internships, jobs, and independent living.
In 2016, Navos helped more than 1500 children and youth develop coping skills to manage their mental health. One of those clients was Jojo Ardon.
Ardon, who uses they/them pronouns, is now an intern with POW! (Proud, Out and Wonderful), a Navos-run support group to increase the resiliency of LGBTQ+ youth. Motivated by their personal experience to find help,aspiring screenwriter Ardon raises awareness about mental health and gender identity through short films and spoken word poetry on YouTube. In the prose poem “7 Months,” Ardon offers peer outreach and education through a literary description of their hospitalization experience. They close the video with a list of community resources and brief speech directed at the audience: "You are not alone in this," they say. "There are people willing to help you."
Q&A with Jojo Ardon
What was life like before you were diagnosed with depression?
I didn’t understand why thoughts of harming myself were going through my head. I felt as if I was the only one who was going through something like that. I tried to find help within religion. I was quite involved with a Methodist church at the time and when I told a church-going friend that I was physically harming myself he said, “God would be sad to see this, it’s not right, I will pray for you.”
I felt isolated and guilty for my thoughts and actions. This was also around the time I began questioning my sexuality, which added another layer to the feelings of guilt and isolation. Eventually, I left the church and fell deeper in dark thoughts. None of my friends I made at church has ever asked what happened or why I left.
After you were diagnosed, what was that it helped you to feel hopeful again?
Before Navos I was seeing a therapist at a local hospital, but she was more focused on practicing techniques rather than getting to the root of my illnesses and trauma; but with Navos these past few years I have been able to get therapy, meet with doctors, get medication, and be hospitalized when things became too dangerous.
At Navos I had one of the best therapists I had ever met. I will call him ‘M’ for the sake of privacy. He was a perfect model of not only stabilizing patients, but genuinely helping them recover and treating them like a person, not just another paycheck. One of my favorite sessions with him was when he suggested we go outside to the swings. I had mentioned months prior that I had loved swings as a child and he said that he had remembered. Who does that? Who remembers such small things like that? M did. We spent that one-hour session on the swings talking about our past summers, our favorite activities during the warm weather, and when the topic got serious he got off the swing to take notes.
What advice would you give to adults who work with youth struggling emotionally?
For therapists, you don’t need to follow the book word for word; try to genuinely get to know your client. What made M my favorite was that sometimes we wouldn’t even talk about what was wrong, we would talk about TV and what we had done over the weekend, he even showed me pictures of his dogs. I felt like we were two actual people talking rather than a therapist and his patient.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to really know the person you’re talking to before you get into all the ‘deep stuff’; after all, how can you trust someone to hold everything you’ve been through when you barely know them?
Always ask your clients gender pronouns the second you meet them. Share your own pronouns with them as well, and if they don’t know what gender pronouns are, give them a quick definition.
If you are a non-therapist and you notice a change in an adolescent you know, I urge you to please try and ask if everything is okay. Of course we are angsty teenagers and will say “Nothing!” but keep asking calmly, do things they enjoy. Try taking it easy on them if they’re not ready to reach out.