By Chloe Young and Blaire Brown
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, ⅙ of youth will experience a mental illness annually. No two people have the same experience regarding mental health, but this doesn’t mean we can’t learn from and help one another, as Eleanor Lusciatti knows very well. Eleanor is a 16 year old student, activist and photographer from the suburbs of Chicago. She also experiences depression, anxiety, PTSD and panic disorder.
At the age of 11, Eleanor had been struggling with feeling down. Unfortunately, she wasn’t taught that feeling this way all the time wasn’t normal, so everyday she ‘put on a facade’ and pretended to be happy like everyone around her, despite feeling constantly demotivated. It was only after doing a ‘walk-the-line’ task in her english class that she realized everyone else was actually happy, leading to her diagnosis of depression.‘When you are in that state, you just have no hope anymore. Everything takes a backseat to what you are feeling mentally. Everything fell apart.’
Eleanor began attending therapy a few hours a week. After around 6 months, nothing had changed, which is when she started seeing a psychiatrist. For her, it was the combination of medication and therapy that made the difference. But when dealing with mental illness, it’s almost never that simple. Despite seeking and receiving help, to this day mental illness continues to impact every aspect of her life, whether it be socially, physically or anything in between. ‘As I’ve gone on and struggled with anxiety and panic, it’s definitely held me back from a lot of things’. Being so young when she first got diagnosed with depression, it was inevitable that things would change as she got older, and learned more about her condition. Through experience, she has found more value in therapy as she now knows how to better express herself. ‘When I go to therapy now, it’s just laying everything out there. I’ve gotten the most help when I’m honest with myself and the people I’m talking to’.
Being creative and using art was a big outlet when Eleanor was depressed or anxious. It helped with her trauma and a way to get her feelings out without using actual words. Some people rely on things like sports, music, or even cooking to occupy their minds, but Eleanor relied on makeup. It was her escape; a place where she could take her mind off things and simply ‘have fun’. When she got older and started transitioning more into digital art, it clicked that she could portray her mental health through doing what she loved.
While Eleanor ‘wishes everything happened earlier’ and that she didn’t progress so far before she got help, she doesn’t blame herself for that. ‘There are just so many aspects that go into getting help.’ Just like how Eleanor doesn’t blame herself for her mental illness, you shouldn’t blame yourself if you have one too. Struggling with mental illness means adjusting and pushing through in order to do what you want to do. Avoiding triggers can be nearly impossible, and you can get pulled down any day.
‘Try to be real with yourself and what you are feeling’.
Not only is Eleanor very passionate about mental health, but she is involved in activism as well. It’s something that fuels her hard-working spirit, but even with that, her anxiety still finds a way to creep in. It’s played a big role in the way Eleanor has handled being an activist. ‘Doing activism and having mental illnesses can be really hard because you have things like burnout and things that can happen in your activist life that make your mental illness worse.’ With that being said, in order to continue the things she loves, she has had to find a balance. Eleanor mentioned that she will willingly go through panic attacks and push herself to be an active participant in social justice. It goes to show how she has been able to bend the limits of her anxiety for what she loves.
Typically, when we think of how social media and mental health link, we immediately perceive social media as something which negatively affects our mental health. However, this isn’t necessarily true. ‘It’s a resource in a bad way for people and also in a good way. You can find people you can relate to and who understand what you are going through. You can also find tips and motivation. But it can also be detrimental when you meet people who don’t benefit your mental health’. It’s easy to feel diminished by what we see online. The majority of people don’t post the pictures where they have bad angles, or when they’re having an awful day, they only put out there what they want others to see. Social media is just the surface of a person’s life. In reality, no one is perfect all of the time. No one is always happy or always looking like a model – it’s just not possible. If you want social media to be a positive influence, you need to make sure you follow the right people. Take Eleanor, for example, who is vocal about mental health and social justice on her social media. She is the type of person we should all be following.
Often mental health is seen as a very personal thing, and there is a large stigma around talking about it. Eleanor, however, doesn’t mind the conversation. ‘The more you talk about it the easier it gets.’ Eleanor learned about the importance of talking and expressing yourself when she was battling with depression, and had a friend who was going through a similar experience. She was able to prevent her friend from taking her life. This event motivated Eleanor to be more vocal about mental health and her experiences. She wanted to impact others lives, she longed to be that person she needed when she was struggling. She has become the helping hand that would’ve made a difference when she first started her journey. To sum it up, Eleanor is vocal for all the right reasons; she knows it’s worth it to help somebody.
Millions of people are affected by mental illnesses across the globe – you probably know someone with a mental illness. It is essential that we are all allies. Eleanor suggests that the most helpful tip is to educate yourself and listen to others. It’s frequently seen that people are uncomfortable with those conversations because they don’t know how to respond adequately, but to a person with mental illness, listening can mean the world. To educate yourself there’s a huge array of options, such as reading articles, watching documentaries or videos, listening to people’s stories, etc.
Over Eleanor’s journey she has learned many fundamental lessons and gone through things that sculpted her into the person she is today. Her advice for people working through a mental illness is to remember that you are strong, loved, and that there are people supporting you.
‘Everything you’re going through is like a wave and it could get worse and your pain could increase, but it will always get better.’