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Oliver’s story: The “different child” 

Oliver Schmekpeper (he/they) is a committee member on PCMH’s Youth Committee for Mental Health (YCMH), representing Broomfield, Colorado. Learn more about YCMH and how to get involved. You can also apply to serve on the 2022-2023 YCMH – applications due Sept. 28 2022.

I was always labeled as the “different child.” 

It all started in elementary school, when I had a hard time focusing on my teachers and what they were saying. At times, they would be inches from my face, snapping at me while saying “hello, hello, is anyone there?” Their eyes would roll as I zoned back to reality with a dazed look on my face pondering what had just happened. 

By 2nd grade I was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety; separated from my classmates for 30 minutes each day to go to a special classroom to get “help.” As an oblivious 8-year-old, I did not think much of this experience at the time, but looking back I realize I was the child that was labeled as “special” and who needed to be dealt with. 

Mental health issues observed in young children or even teenagers are often overlooked due to others simply not realizing that mental health issues can be prevalent even in children. It seems anytime that a teenager tries to speak to others about any difficulties they are having with their mental health, they are instantly shut down or told that they “aren’t old enough” to be experiencing these issues. 

When I reached the age of about 14, I started to recognize that my mental state was getting worse. I tried to reach out to people that I knew including friends, teachers, and even counselors, but I ran into the same issue facing so many teens right now: I was told I couldn’t possibly have this issue or I must be faking it for attention. I kept searching for help, but it seemed every resource either had a long waitlist to talk to a real person or just an automated message that told me to wait until someone could assist. 

I eventually found a support group to help me. Through that support group, I also learned how I could help others like me. I want to help other teens that are struggling just as I had, not being able to even reach out for a simple conversation without being judged or told off for just trying to advocate for their own mental health. 

Throughout my mental health battles, I have learned a great deal. If I could give some advice to other teenagers struggling like me, I would tell them: It may be a long road to get the help you need, but eventually you find that one person, group, or peer that can help guide you through your battles. Don’t lose hope. Keep searching and never stop fighting to become a better version of yourself.

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