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So during winter break, I watched The Joker with my friends. I am not into DC or Marvel or anything superhero super villain for all that matters, but I decided to watch it thinking it would be the superhero super villain movie. It was one of those movies that you think about after. So the Joker is based on a fictional man named Arthur Fleck, and in the movie, he is mentally deteriorating, and his actions become more frequent and severe. Even though the film doesn’t really disclose what type of illness he struggled with, I saw that he was losing touch with reality. Near the end of the movie, he went on a talk show. In the film, he admitted that he killed like three boys. But the part that really stuck with me was that he said something that everyone constantly ignored him. Even when he asked for help, he couldn’t get it. He was shunned from his community. Gotham city. I relate this to my mental health. I am not anywhere near the extent of the Joker’s state, but when I tried talking about my mental health story, I was ignored. So let me introduce myself. My name is Ria Patel. I am a Junior at Hightstown. And I have generalized anxiety disorder and depression. I am proud to say this. Because before, I was ignored. Before my voice was hidden. When people hear that I have “mental health problems,” I am seen as weak. My own family comes up to me and asks why are u on medicine? Be strong-minded. I quote my uncle saying, “depression is a business. It’s a scam”. I want to make it clear. There is a difference between being strong-minded and being Mentally Ill. Mental illness can be influenced by genetics and environmental factors. Mental illness is something that one cannot control. It can be tamed. At the end of my sophomore year, things got very bad for me. I felt I was in a vortex of thoughts and shame, and I couldn’t escape it. I went to my dad, the most vulnerable I had ever been, cried my eyes out for hours, and asked to see a doctor. When I went to the doctor, I was assigned therapy immediately, I was diagnosed, and I was happier than ever. Happier in the sense that I wasn’t crazy. For years of my life, I thought I was too dramatic or couldn’t handle stress well. It wasn’t the case. I am lucky that I had my dad, and he listened to me. We all don’t have that. I created Project Shakti to help with that. This is a nonprofit organization that tries to spread awareness about mental illness in South Asian communities. I work on many projects, such as blogs on my website to start a conversation about mental illness, working with therapists and doctors such as Dr Robert Watts. I created redbubble stickers and sell a coloring book to get funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And I have a podcast called the PS story, where I talk more about topics like I am talking about today. At the end of the day, you can believe in it or not. And I speak to parents here. You may not believe it but that is your choice. Not the choice for your children. It’s theirs. After talking to my friends after I posted Project Shakti and having chains of conversations on Project Shakti’s dms I can say that a recurring pattern is that kids these days are not getting the help they need from their parents. If your child ever comes up to you asking for help, asking to see someone, do not dare shun them away, saying, “my child can’t have that.” You don’t know that. They are being vulnerable, and it’s your duty to help them. It’s also your duty to help yourself. Going to see a professional is not weakness. It is strength. I’m here today, not saying everyone is mentally ill or everyone is going through those same struggles. But I will say a common practice among brown kids these days is the lack of communication. Being a brown student is hard. The pressure to maintain the typical grades and the GPA and do a bunch of extracurriculars to be at the top of our class gets to us. It did to me. I ask the parents today to really talk with their children. Other than the typical "how are your grades" or "you have to study for the sat," talk to them. You don’t know what's going on inside a person’s head till you break a barrier between them and talk. My parents didn’t know. And I bet you don’t either. And everyone else reading this, parents or students, if you need anyone to talk to, I am here. The Project Shakti gmail goes directly to my inbox; no one on our team will see it but me. Need advice got you send me a quick dm. I may not experience everything you are going through, but I am a person on your team. We really have to start promoting mental health awareness. Especially our community. We need to break the stigma together.

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