time to talk

Mental health ‘is an OK subject to talk about’

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Kristen Torres was home alone when she had thoughts of ending her life. She was 14 years old. Her parents were out of the country. Her older brother was away at college.

She had experienced social media-related bullying for several years and was dealing with anxiety. She felt an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness. The final straw, she said, was homecoming, when a group of girls included her in their big plans, then ditched her the day of the event.

After school, while contemplating taking her life, her phone rang. It was her grandmother asking her if she wanted to get dinner.

Torres decided to confide in a parent’s friend about her thoughts of suicide. That friend suggested she see a school counselor. The next day at Chaparral High School, she filled out a slip with one word: “depression.”

The counselor came to get Torres. He was understanding, caring and recommended she be evaluated at a hospital. Soon after, Torres saw a psychologist for issues relating to anxiety and depression. She started seeing a therapist and has continued doing so since.

She still keeps in touch with that high school counselor.

Torres, now 20 and double majoring in clinical counseling psychology and marketing at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, found a new sense of self-awareness.

“If I’m feeling anxious, I send my therapist a text,” said Torres, who speaks with bright smiles and a vibrant energy. “It’s an OK subject to talk about because we talk about physical health so easily.”

MORE: Campaign fights stigma of mental illness

Torres’ experience has led her to become an advocate for mental health. Her senior year of high school, she joined the Pediatric Mental Health Institute Youth Action Board for Children’s Hospital Colorado. Made up of 15 young people from the Denver metro area, the board’s mission is to raise awareness about and de-stigmatize mental health issues. She also has testified before legislators about mental health issues.

This summer, Torres is doing an internship involving research at an eating-disorder unit at Children’s Hospital, and she has plans to complete an eight-hour mental health training. In the future, she aspires to work for a nonprofit mental health advocacy organization.

In her personal life, Torres is more open about her emotions with the people closest to her. The strong support from her parents and friends, paired with continuous therapy, are what she said got her through the difficult period in her life.

“It’s super-important for people to open up,” she said. “To be that person who people open up to, you have to start that conversation yourself.”

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