Mental health: catalyst that caused depressed teen to get help | #teacher | #children | #kids

When typically “good” student Charley began to skip school because she couldn’t get out of bed, her teacher was the person who realised why.

Charley Gonzaga, 21, first began experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety as an 11 year old after her father passed away from illness. She recalls feeling “sad, odd and lonely” but not understanding the reason behind her emotions.

“I didn’t really understand what was going on. It was a lot of new feelings and I didn’t understand them. That was when I began to self-harm,” she told

“I didn’t really talk to anyone professionally because I thought everyone felt that way and didn’t know if it was normal or not.”

Her struggles, however, with her mental health escalated in Year 12. A break-up with her boyfriend prompted extreme teasing from her friendship circle that escalated to threats and cyber-bullying via Snapchat.

“I guess people thought it was just fun to bully me because I was so vulnerable,” she says. “I had a panic attack at school once and everyone said I was being dramatic, which for a lot of people is why young kids don’t seek out help.”

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At school Charley says her depression and anxiety often appeared as her looking “a little tired or burnt out”. However, as a typically “good” student, her teachers began to get concerned once she started missing school and failing her exams.

“It presented in me not wanting to get out of bed some days but I just thought that was a typical teenager stereotype,” she says. “Or my mum would get sick and I would obsess over her going to the doctors and over thinking a lot. I would be anxious but I wasn’t aware it was anxiety. I thought it was paranoia.”

Her breakthrough moment came when her English teacher encouraged her to reach out to headspace – a national youth mental health foundation. The government-backed service put her in contact with her first psychologist who she continues to see today.

‘It helped me take ownership of my mental health’

Once Charley began speaking to a professional, she was able to better understand and recalibrate her relationship with her mental health.

“It took three sessions for me to put all the puzzle pieces together,” she says.

“I was told I had severe depression and anxiety but it wasn’t until I spoke to my psychologist a lot more that I realised it all made sense and understood why I did the things I did.

“It really helped me take ownership of my mental health and go, ‘this is me and this is why I’m like this and here’s what can I do to make this work in my favour’.”

She also began implementing strategies to help temper any anxiety or depression flare ups. One tactic she found particularly helpful was doing jumping Jacks or “springing out of bed” on days where she would rather “wallow”.

“This really helped me. I would be really restless and fidgety in bed but I’d just want to stay there with my thoughts,” she says. “Jumping out of bed and just shaking everything off helped me reset in a way.”

Journaling and trapping her anxieties on paper became another coping mechanism she continues to do.

Paying it forward

Now a student at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Charley is a speaker for preventive mental health organisation batyr. Part of her role includes running workshops and speaking to high school students about her own mental health journey.

She says one of the most rewarding aspects from her role is being able to normalise mental health and sharing the mass of resources and help available for students struggling.

“It’s nice that sharing my story has made that one person feel less alone,” says Charley. “My favourite thing is when kids come up to me and say: ‘I feel like that too’ or say they want to see a psychologist as well.”

Batyr is also one of the organisations supported by MOOD tea. Focused on increasing awareness and preventing youth suicide – the number one killer of young Australians – the social enterprise donates their profits to mental health foundations like BackTrack and Gotcha4Life.

In her work as a mental health advocate, Charley says the biggest lesson she’s learnt is that “it’s okay not to be okay,” something she believes her generation find difficult due to the ‘highlight reel’ effect of social media.

“We tend to be so hard on ourselves,” she says. “There’s so much pressure for young people to be doing so many things and that was one of the biggest things I struggled to learn after balancing so many extra-curricular activities in high school.”

“It’s okay to want to take a day off or to cancel plans just to take care of yourself.”

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