Photographer & Mental Health Advocate

Anxiety Awareness

Keds Brave Life Project 2015- Clouded Thoughts

 Image: Keds

Image: Keds

About a year ago, I applied for the chance to receive a grant from Keds and,  to help kick start my dream career. I would be lying to you if I said that I believe I'd get it. I didn't think someone like me would actually have a chance because I know there are so many more people out there in the world who are doing bigger and better things who could have used it. But whoever read my application believed in me and what I wanted to do for myself and the world. 

In my application, I talked about wanting to use photography as a platform to raise awareness for mental health. With the grant from Keds, I would be able to get the tools necessary to start my photography project and embark on the emotional journey that would lead me to where I am now. Because of this project, I was able to create a series of images from people of all walks of life; mothers, brothers, people who work with those with mental illnesses and people who love someone with a mental illness. Each person had a different story but had one thing in common, to hep others who might be dealing with a mental illness all on their own and also to show the world that compassion and education is needed to understand mental health. 

I will be posting the video that I made that gives an overview of my project and also has an amazing cover of Rachel Platten's "Fight Song", covered by my friend Elvia (Elvia Aurora Ferreira). 

I will be posting the images and stories of each individual below. All individuals were asked the same questions and then some except for two people who were effected by mental health through their work or someone they love. The names of each individual will not be used for their safety and safety alone. If you think you know any of these individuals, especially those that faces are not showing, do not ask them about it unless they bring it up. Allow these people to show you something greater then themselves, their struggles and triumphs of living with a mental illness. 


Some material will have triggers and graphic content. So please use your own discretion.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Please know that you are important, loved, and wanted. <3







Ashley: How old are you? 

P1: I am 24 years old

Ashley: When did you realize something was distressing you?

P1: Um, I would said back when I was like twelve.

Ashley: What made you realize something was wrong?

P1: I would always go to sleep around 4 in the morning, don't know why.

Ashley: What do you endure(suffer) from?

P1: Umm, I would say depression and insomnia. 

Ashley: Where/What do you believe your depression/insomnia  is derived from?

P1: I don't think I'm good enough. I'm always being compared to other people and I also feel like I am by myself because of that. So I feel like I need to do things on my own.

Ashley: And the insomnia part? 

P1: 'Cause my head is constantly thinking and it just keeps going and going, it can't shut itself up.

Ashley:  How long do you think you have endured (suffered) from depression and insomnia?

P1: I know its been more around when I was fifteen but it started around twelve.

Ashley: Did you seek help quickly? Why/why not?

P1: I didn't seek help quickly because I thought it was me being me cos I was just a kid growing up. But I gave it a try when I was 22 and it didn't really help so I just kept doing stuff by myself to see if I could solve it by myself.

Ashley: Have you solved it yet?

P1: Never solved it yet but I have my own methods where I can keep myself calm and keep these thoughts away.

Ashley: Would you ever go back to seek help? 

P1:  Well if it gets to an extreme point again like two,three years ago, then I might but as of right now my own methods are working.

Ashley:  Do you know what triggers your depression?

P1: Actually I do not, I feel like it comes and goes. It comes more when I'm not feeling that great or when I feel like I've failed or haven't completed something, when I feel guilty about something even though I know I shouldn't. That's when it hits me the hardest.

Ashley: Have you told anyone that you endure (suffer) from depression and insomnia?

P1: I've only told 7 people in my life. I like to keep things to myself, I don't really like to express it, I'm very introverted. 

Ashley: Do you believe there is a stigma behind mental illness?

P1: Yes, yes there is. They think your insane, your weird. You get ridiculed for it. People say its just me and to get over it but you can't. It's easier said then done. 

Ashley: Do you think the stigma behind mental illness affects you and is the reason why you keep it a secret?

P1: I even keep it away from my family, so yes. It does affect me a lot.

Ashley: If you could, what would you say to the world about mental health?

P1: I'm not quite sure, give me a moment. Some people really are this way, they are not acting.

Ashley: One piece of advice for someone who thinks they might have depression and insomnia.

P1: It's better to have one friend then no friend. 

Ashley: Anything you would like the world to know about you?

P1: It's okay to like come out, but don't hold it too much and become like me.  



Ashley: How old are you?

P2: Thirty

Ashley: When did you realize something was distressing you?

P2: Umm, I think the first time was when I basically didn't leave the house for almost a year when I was a teenager. When I started to cut myself and when I started to eat a lot.

Ashley: What do you endure (suffer) from?

P1: It's a few things, I suffer from depression, um I'm a binge eater, I suffer from Generalized Anxiety and I also suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. 

Ashley: Why is it that you think you endure (suffer) from all of these mental ailments?

P2: For several reasons, for lets see. I don't know exactly, I just realized that it wasn't normal for me to act a certain way. I mean I know it was very abnormal for me to be sleeping all the time or constantly eat all the time or stay up 24 hours.

Ashley: Do you know what triggers your mental ailments?

P2: Um, well, I was molested at a young age and I was told after awhile to kind of like let it go. Um, from there seeing the person once in a blue moon, kinda made me feel ashamed. Made me feel like I kinda did something wrong. At one point, pressure from certain members of the family made me apologize to him and also for the fact that no one believed in me. I just basically felt ashamed. 

Ashley: Did you seek help quickly, Why/Why not?

P2: I did a few times when I was in my teen years. Once from a pastor because apparently there was an episode that I don't really remember and I went a little off world. Another time when I was in a vocational school and just recently almost a year ago I went to go seek help from a professional therapist that I look up to very much. 

Ashley: Do you believe there is a stigma behind mental illness and does it effect you?

P2: Of course there is and of course it does affect me because I don't like to go out there and say, oh I have this, I have that to have people look at me and say "oh we have to be careful with what we say because she might feel a certain way." Or "oh lets ignore her because she's feeling this way. Or she's making excuses because of that." So of course there is always a stigma behind it.

Ashley: If you could, what would you say to the world about mental health?

P2: That it's okay to be not okay. That everyone goes through things in life that are very, personal to them and that they have to sometimes come out of their shells and deal with it themselves. From what I've learned from myself and my studies, I've learned that it takes more courage to come out and say I need help, then it is to point a finger and say that person is bad.

Ashley: One piece of advice for someone who thinks they might have the same mental ailments that you have? 

P2: Go seek help. It doesn't matter if it's a therapist, a school counselor, or a family member, go talk to someone. It's always best to seek help because if not it can eat at you for a very long time and it is not a good feel. 

Ashley: Anything you would like the world to know about you?

P2: Um, that I'm always me. That my mental illness does not define who I am, it's just what I face everyday, It's not who I am as a person. I am who I am.



Ashley: How old are you?

P3: I'm twenty-three years old.

Ashley: When did you realize something was distressing you?

P3: When I was eleven.

Ashley: What was it that made you realize something was wrong?

P3: 'Cause I used to get bullied dressing the way I was and then I said to myself what is wrong, why do I feel like, really hurt for what they say. I started to get uptight when somebody would joke around I would get mad about it.

Ashley: What do you endure (suffer) from?

P3: Depression. anxiety and bipolar.

Ashley:  How long have you been enduring (suffering) from your ailments?

P3: Since I was about fourteen.

Ashley: Did you seek help quickly, Why/Why not?

P3: No I didn't do anything about it.Because I was scared to, to face the truth about it.

Ashley: What scared you about the truth?

P3: That nobody would end up being my friend because of these symptoms. 

Ashley: Do you believe there is a stigma behind mental illness and does it affect you?

P3: Yes and no. Because like people say it's in your head and you know it is. But then they don't know what you're going through everyday. Like you could just be yourself one minute and the next day and then automatically your mood just chances from one to another. Like you were just happy one minute ago? What happened. Sometimes that stigma affects me 'cause I can be the person I am but then like after a while it just changes. 

Ashley: So people don't ask you if there is something wrong?

P3: The only people that only ask me are my main family but my friends would be like, oh I know that's who she is. They'll just like joke around about it.

Ashley: Do you think that's a good thing?

P3: I don't think it's good for them to joke around with me because it will take its toll. Because if something will happen they'll be like "I shouldn't have joked around with her and her symptoms." 

Ashley: Have you spoke to your friends about this?

P3: I've kept quiet to most of my friends about it because I don't want them to be scared away by it. " Like oh okay, she has depression, she has anxiety, she has bipolar." Like if I tell them, they'll probably think that it's too much and just run away.

Ashley:  If you could, what would you say to the world about mental health?

P3: To take it seriously, get help when you know its right and don't wait till the last minute.

Ashley: One piece of advice for someone who thinks they might have the same mental ailments that you have? 

P3:  To seek help right away because the more that you wait, it's gonna affect your life. 



Ashley: How old are you?

P4: I'm twenty-five

Ashley: What do you endure (suffer) from?

P4: I would say anxiety, depression, mainly those two.

Ashley: When did you realize something was distressing you?

P4: When I was about fifteen, sixteen and then rediscovered everything about two years ago when I was twenty-two, twenty-three.

Ashley: How long did you endure (suffer) from anxiety and depression?

P4: About all of my life. 

Ashley: Did you seek help quickly, Why/Why not?

P4: Um, I did seek some type of help probably 3 months in. But then I discontinued due to the fact of lack of interests from the person I was seeking help from. 

Ashley: Do you believe there is a stigma behind mental illness and does it effect you?

P4: Yes I do think there's a stigma. And yes it affects my life.

Ashley:  If you could, what would you say to the world about mental health?

P4: I would say to not look at it as a negative thing. Um, I would encourage myself and others to try and find some sort of help to do something about it. Because at the end it will hurt you.

Ashley: One piece of advice for someone who thinks they might have the same mental ailments that you have? 

P4: To seek help, definitely to seek help and not only to seek help but to try and remain positive for yourself and not to do it for someone else. Because the one who ends of benefitting is you.

Ashley: Anything you would like the world to know about you?

P4:  Definitely that they're not alone and they're not the only ones and being apart of this has actually helped me discover that. There are more cases then what I thought and that we all share something in common and that we're not alone. And hopefully more people will not be so afraid to speak out and not let people's negative thoughts like the words crazy get to you. And that you actually do have something that needs attention.



Ashley: How old are you?

P5: Twenty-three

Ashley:  What is your profession?

P5: Currently a student studying to become an electrical engineer.

Ashley: How are you affected or connected with mental illness?

P5: My fiance has generalized anxiety disorder and from what I have learned, it's something that affects her every single day. Um, I've come to learn that it affects me as well because whatever we could be doing that day, it can affect her and changer her mood and cause her to have an anxiety attack.

Ashley: Why do you help her with her mental illness? Because lets be honest just 'cause you're with her doesn't mean you have to help her?

P5: Well that's true and she always tells me these stories of relationships where the significant other does not help or even a family member. And it's really sad because of what I've seen, it really puts a damper on the lives of those with the mental illness. I try to take the knowledge with myself to figure out what generalized anxiety is so that I can try to help even though I know there is no possible way that I can get rid of it. I want to learn so that I can understand and feel what she feels.

Ashley: Do you believe that there is a stigma behind mental illness?

P5: Absolutely! All the time in the news, that's the main thing they always put a stigma to. They always say if someone kills someone they are mentally ill. 

Ashley:If you could tell the world one thing about taking care of someone with a mental illness, what would you say? 

P5: Okay first thing, empathy is key. Don't try to solve it, don't try to make it go away. Empathy is key, just understand and be there for them, That is truly what people with a mental illness want and need, is to have someone there. They want to be able to express themselves and have someone hear them because everyday they are dealing with judgement and telling them "you're weird, get over it." And it's that easy. 

Ashley: What would you tell someone who as a mental illness?

P5: Don't be afraid, there is always someone out there to willing listen.  You'd be surprised by how kindhearted this earth is and people can be. And whether you feel like no one is there for you, I'm pretty certain there is someone.  Online, people will be there for you. There are hotlines you can call. Don't do anything you wouldn't want to do. 

Ashley: Anything you would like the world to know about you?

P5: This is for the partner, the significant other. It's not easy, trust me it's not easy. You have to accept that you're not going to give the right answer all the time, that you can't always be the superhero they need.You can just be yourself and be there for them and be you. Because most of the time, that's what they're looking for, is for you to just be you. 



Ashley: How old are you?

P6: Thirty-two

Ashley: What do you endure (suffer) from?

P6: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia and Post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Ashley: When did you realize something was distressing you?

P6: Um, actually I was very young.  My mine was 8 years old but we didn't know exactly what it was until I was in college. I had my first mental breakdown at twenty years old and thats when I discovered that what I was experiencing was actually anxiety.

Ashley: How long did you endure (suffer) from anxiety?

P6: Since I was 8. 

Ashley: Did you seek help quickly, Why/Why not?

P6: I was actually trying to seek help at a young age but we didn't know what exactly was going on with me, it took me to have my first breakdown in college to realize okay this is what I have so I went to look for help.

Ashley: Do you believe there is a stigma behind mental illness and does it affect you?

P6: That's a good questions. For me, I guess because I wasn't really open about it until I was an adult, I do not have any stigma about it. Um, now, when I do have the attacks around people and they look at me weird, then yea that's when it's like okay and that makes my attack even worse because I'm like great they think I'm crazy, they think I'm spazzing for no reason 'cause I'm on drugs or something, when that's clearly not the case.

Ashley: So it does affect you, only in public places, not like at home or in your own thoughts?

P6: Mine, when it affected me I was home and watching t.v, enjoying a great day and boom it hits. My first experience in public was when I went to the New School in New York City, traveling on the train. I had attacks on the train and that was horrible, horrific for me because I'm closed in, in tubes, can't do anything just wait until the next stop, get on another train, go home and I can't even make it to home. Often times I'd get off at Grove street and cry home, like shaking, shivering, going through the whole spiel. What truly triggered it was going to the New School to study Art Therapy. Now in some of those classes we had to analyze ourselves and what I did was I opened up Pandora's box. I'd go in, draw, analyze my drawings and all of a sudden, I'm leaving without closing it. So I'm leaving with everything open and when I'm on that train that's all I'm doing, is thinking. It was opening the wounds for me, everything that I suffered from and that's what did it. Even today, it's very difficult for me to get on the train.  I have lost so many opportunities to do things and I just can't. If it wasn't for James I don't know. He's the only guy thats like " Okay you're having one, what can I do? How can I calm you?", even for the rides. Its just awful. 

P6: One of my big triggers is my stomach, having Colitis and Irritable bowel syndrome. When I get that pain and I'm outside, that's it, full on attack because I need to get to a bathroom or else I'm going to embarrass myself. Or the pain is so much, I'm peeled over and that's it, my body starts going into shake my, my breathing starts palpitating, I go into full blown attack. And my step father is like " all of that because you have to use the bathroom." He just doesn't get it, the pain is like food poisoning and more but I know he means well.

Ashley:  If you could, what would you say to the world about mental health?

P6: What I would say to the world is that we're ordinary people, we didn't ask for this but we have it. And believe it or not, it makes us much stronger because of it. Everyday we're fighting a battle, everyday we're fighting to get up and walk out of those doors. Can I roll out of bed? Can I step foot on that train to get to where I need to go? We're fighting, but we're heroes within ourselves and within this community that we are building with others that know about us and we know about them and we can help each other. So there's nothing wrong with us, it's just the world, they have a problem. 

Ashley: One piece of advice for someone who thinks they might have the same mental ailments that you have? 

P6: My advice is you know your body, you know yourself. No one can tell you different. If you need the help, go for it. There's nothing wrong with going to a doctor, theres nothing wrong with getting medication for it because sometimes you need that. Um, surround yourself with positive people, things that motivate you. Always be around positive things, thats the only way, to surround yourself with those things. And also find your own little purpose and what I mean by little purpose, is for me, how i started to get something out of this is, I look at myself as a future role model. I would find one child take under my wing and focus on that child. I have to be that hero for this one, so if I'm going to preach all this stuff to this little one, I have to be about it. And that has helped me slowly get away from the negative and not dwell. Having a purpose helps.

Ashley: Anything you would like the world to know about you?

P6: One thing I've learned with going to my art therapy classes when I used to go. The professor had once said that people who are creative, they all suffer from some form of mental illness because we have to dive into a dark place in order to get these beautiful masterpieces out and for me, I am a very creative person and knowing that I have this beautiful gift of creativity, having anxiety is my kryptonite. And it's okay because Superman has his kryptonite and it sometimes gets him but believe it or not he still triumphs over everything so for me, I am a mom, a teacher, a friend, now a fiance, um and I just also want to be someone who can help others like ourselves. If I can do that and still live a normal life, I'm sure everybody else can, we just need to be around positive people. 



Ashley: How old are you?

P7: I'm twenty-three

Ashley: What do you endure (suffer) from?

P7: Um social anxiety. 

Ashley: Can you elaborate more on what your social anxiety is?

P7: For me, its being in a setting where there's a lot of people, even friends, to me it's very difficult to socialize mostly because I feel like I'm being judged or its something where I feel like they don't get me. So for me I get closed off and I don't really like the idea of talking to others, it's not like that I don't like talking it's just difficult for me to express myself and that aspect of being vulnerable that comes with having social anxiety. Like you lack that ability to be vulnerable, so that's how it is for me.

Ashley: How long did you endure (suffer) from social anxiety?

P7: So for me it's probably the last four years, and before that I was perfectly fine and it was easy for me to talk and now it's kinda like difficult. 

Ashley: When did you realize something was distressing you four years ago?

P7: I didn't necessarily know what it was four years ago. It was kinda like the idea that if you don't acknowledge it, it isn't there.  So it wasn't until maybe, this year that I said maybe I have something that is not necessarily wrong with me but is stopping me from opening up and actually having friends and being open to people. So yea, it was about a year ago and I noticed that 'cause I had a close group of friends and from there I always felt like they were judging me in someway, even though they weren't. And I just felt very alone and thats when I kinda just registered that maybe it's just me and that I do have some type of issues with myself in terms of vulnerability.

Ashley: Did you seek help quickly, Why/Why not?

P7: I didn't seek help because it was more like, okay maybe I can try and help myself out 'cause thats sort of my thing thats like help yourself out first and then if you can't really help yourself out, seek help. And I also didn't really tell people about because telling people about is again, you know, it's admitting to yourself that you do have something wrong. It wasn't until maybe a couple weeks ago when I decided to make an appointment with somebody to speak about it but that never went through because its really really expensive and I don't have that kind of money. But it's something that I do want to look into in the future, but in the meantime I am discussing with one of my best friend's about doing a whole AA styled idea where maybe I can have a friend of mine who can listen when I'm experiencing anxiety  and in that way, it's sort of like they are my sponsor and they can check up on me to make sure I'm okay, so I was thinking about that. And in that way, I'd also do the same for them.

Ashley: Do you believe there is a stigma behind mental illness and does it affect you?

P7: I do there is a stigma and I don't think it necessarily affects me because I never really connected with it and it's only until recently where I'm trying to understand myself better and I guess that's mostly because I am trying to keep myself on my own and understand myself more. But I do definitely think there is a stigma especially with a lot of the shootings that have been happening and like kids going into schools with gun or you know killing people for nonsense. I feel like people are saying you know, oh mental illness, that's why its happening. Not because you know, they might have something else that might be wrong with them. You know maybe some type of inner battle that they're dealing with that's totally not related to mental illness. 

Ashley:   If you could, what would you say to the world about mental health?

P7: I'd saying stop judging it, I feel like,especially people with mental illnesses, they feel like they are being judged in someway and the way the world is trying to isolate them. And it's true, the world is and that's because they're judging and it's always the labels, that's all society does, that's all you can relate too, it's always a label you know what I mean. Oh you're fat, oh you're obese, oh you're plush size, you're this your that. And it's like okay I get that that's something that describes me but it's not who I am. So I feel like the world needs to stop thinking of people as labels and think of them more as people. Be more personable with that because then in that way people can allow themselves to be more vulnerable and open up more and maybe talk about their problems and see if they can get the proper help.

Ashley: One piece of advice for someone who thinks they might have the same mental ailment that you have?

P7: That it's okay, that you shouldn't feel like you're a freak, you shouldn't feel like you necessarily have a problem. I felt like a weirdo that I couldn't go into a crowded room without my boyfriend by my side. It's something I think we all experience throughout our life, it just depends on your age and your situation. Like I said, I never had it when I was younger, yea I was shy and after some time i became, extroverted and then closed again but it all depends on the situation you shouldn't be afraid of having any type of anxiety because its something that is you. It's something that you can work through. Its like oh you have this, lets see if we can find the solution. So that way you can get better. It's something that you need to actually embrace and say this is me this is who i am. This is what I am going through right now and I need to try and work through it and if anything it'll let you know who you are more. It sucks and it's hard but everybody goes through it. You should try to work through it. And even though I have social anxiety, I like to meet new people. 

Ashley: Anything you would like the world to know about you?

P7: Personally I'm trying to find that sponsor ship thing in friends and stuff to sort of help myself out and sort of focus on me for once and build my character, like my confidence up and be more confident in who I am. And I've always been the type of person who cares for people so I give what I can and you know I'm trying to get involved in different organizations and surround myself around more people even though it's scary. Like where I'm put in a crowd, it's something I feel like, I get scared because I don't want to do it but something pushes me because I don't want to end up like a statistic like somebody who is suicidal because I did have issues with that. Like a couple of weeks ago, I felt really really down and so it was really hard for to me find some type of light. And so I was able to get myself out of it because,again I had that sponsorship  and I'm trying to do that whole thing of putting myself in a crowd and being around people and making myself feel uncomfortable because once you get passed that uncomfortable feeling, you kinda realize that, I'm here so what am I going to do. There's nothing else I can do but try to be better, try to talk to people and figure out whats wrong with me.  Even if I don't talk to people but to allow myself to question why I am nervous. I'm trying to open myself up to more people and also try to find ways to sort of just be comfortable with who I am.



Ashley: How old are you ?

P8: Thirty one

Ashley:  When did you realize something was distressing you?

P8: I'm pretty certain it happened at a younger age but I remember going to an interview and just freaking out for the interview and like shaking and I couldn't stop like little moments. I was gonna start collage and just freaking out about stuff like that. 

Ashley: What do you endure (suffer) from?

P8: Oh definitely anxiety and depression

Ashley: How long did you endure (suffer) from anxiety and depression?

P8: Um, it has to be since I was young but I can't remember my exact age. 

Ashley: Did you seek help quickly, Why/Why not?

P8: I had my daughter and that's when I knew it really got worse. I tried to seek help but then I was discouraged because everybody just wanted to put me on pills and medicine which was not what I wanted. I wanted something to help me cope not to depend on medicine so I kinda just did it on my own, find out what caused the anxiety and tried to stay away from that stuff. 

Ashley: Do you believe there is a stigma behind mental illness and does it affect you?

P8: Oh I definitely think there's a stigma, I think um, yea it affects me. They think of mental illness and the words wacko and crazy come to mind. Or you don't want to feel like your crazy and you don't want people to think you're crazy so you tend to kinda keep it to yourself which doesn't always seem to help it. You feel like you don't want people to see you have an attack 'cause then their first thought is, oh this person must be crazy. And they'll judge you.

Ashley:  If you could, what would you say to the world about mental health?

P8: The more we talk about it, the easier it is for us to understand it. And with more people coming out it makes it easier for others to talk about it and not feel ashamed about it. Let's stop the stigma and be more careful with the words we use to descrive someone with a mental illness.

Ashley: One piece of advice for someone who thinks they might have the same mental ailment that you have?

P8: Don't be afraid to seek help . we may feel embarrassed but know you're not alone. Many people go thru this and talking about it helps.

Ashley: Anything you would like the world to know about you?

P8: Im just a regular person with flaws and my mental illness doesn't define who I am. I am still a great mom , wife and friend at the end of the day.



Ashley: How old are you?

P9: Twenty-four

Ashley: What is your profession?

P9: I'm a foster care case planner, I work in New York City. 

Ashley: Because of your profession, are you connected with people that have mental illnesses?

P9: yes.

Ashley: Why do you help these people with mental illnesses in the foster care system?

P9: Well, I'm going to be two years now at my job and I've asked myself the same question. I question why do I continue to be in this field and it's because I have compassion and I'm also very compassionate about helping others and providing help for those clients that I do work with who suffer from mental illnesses and the reasons why at times children are placed into the foster care system.

Ashley: Because you profession enables you to help those that do have mental illnesses, do you believe there is a stigma behind mental illness?

P9: I do, I think that there's not enough clarification about mental health and mental illness. I think there's been a lot of stereotypes, a lot of discrimination, things that are not clarified yet about mental illnesses. I think there's a lot of people who think that if you call them, or notate them as mental health, they think that right away you're calling them crazy. I don't think there's enough help, enough clarification for people to understand what it is to have a mental health and it needs to be taken care of and they need somebody there to advocate, such as yourself. 

Ashley: When you are working, do you see people losing the opportunities to change and be a better person because they are afraid of being judged for the mental illness?

P9: It's hard to see that because they look at us as people who remove their kids, but it's not us. In jersey it's DYFS and in New York it's ACS and we're just the people on the front like to just help them and provide them the services but I think that there's such um, a stigma, stereotype or mindset that people have of foster care and people who are trying to provide services. So it's hard to see that part because there are a lot of clients that won't let you in. People won't let you in and I think that when we provide these services, there's a lot of them that decided they want that type of control, of course, why would anyway want someone to come into their home and say they have to do this and that to get your kid back. Meanwhile that child came out of you, no one brought that child into the world but you. So they want to have that little bit of control and say I don't want to go to these services.And most of the times they need to get that counseling for their mental health, because they have been through trauma, rape, being homeless, generational violence. And for example the children that come into care, also have  mental health issues, like they are depressed because they aren't with their parents. So I think they lose the opportunity but as a case planner, we try to explain these things. But when you have a society that is telling you one thing, for example, who have been through the system already, telling those other parents that they don't need to use the services, they lose that benefit. Coming into foster care, as a parent or a child, no matter what, that's traumatic. It's a traumatic situation, for us too because we're going through secondary trauma, feeling the pain and seeing how if a parent just went to get help, they would get their child back. I try being the most positive person as a case planner because I'm a positive person in general and don't get me wrong I have my moments. But I have to be like that because we're surrounded by so much negativity, how can you not be thankful for your life. It's hard field because you see people who aren't doing it for the money then you see those that are doing it for the money, but those that are doing it for these kids, they give me the strength to keep staying in this field. 

Ashley: How is it that you don't feel drained by so much negativity and those with mental illnesses?

P9: I have my days, it can be draining, but you have to remind yourself that you have to take the personal out of it because at the end of the day you're just a person trying to provide this to someone. It's a good question because I even wonder how I'm still doing what I do despite all of the negativity. 

Ashley: Because you work with clients that at times have mental illnesses, what would you tell the world?

P9: I'd first tell you to make sure you look up information and understand it There all different, so many disorders, so many illnesses. Even therapists and psychologist can't define all of them if you know what I mean. Um, I would say don't judge the person by their appearance, um it's important to get to know the person and where they are coming from. For example I have to think about  not only the person, but the allegations against them and I have to ask, what happened that day that your kids came into care. What was caused it to happen, what has happened in your past, and caused you to be where you are now. It's about getting to know the person and not just saying oh they show signs of x, y,z. You have to see who they are and what they've been through. Don't focus on the media and the school shootings there is more to it than that for that person to come to that situation. There are so many broken systems, whether its foster care, mental health, education system. There is so many things that need to be fixed. Especially our soldiers that are coming back with PTSD and all these disorders and are not receiving those services who end up homeless. So I think there are a lot of things that have to be done.

Ashley: Because you work in foster care, do you believe the system for mental health is helping or hurting?

P9: People try to outsmart the system and they might but guess what the kids come right back in, why? Because there was something there that was never fixed, whether its mental health or something else that leads up to mental illness. I think that there are a lot of things that are being done outside because we refer clients outside of the agency to receive services but it depends whether or not on the person on the outside, for example, the therapists if they are helping. So there is a lot of um, things to it. I think its helpful but I think there is something more that is needed to be done. Do I know what that is, I don't. But hopefully I find it out while I'm working. 

Ashley: If you could tell someone with a mental illness anything, what would you tell them?

P9: Um, don't give up, continue to look for that light. You're gonna have good days and you're gonna have bad days, we're not always gonna be happy. When you have your downfall, it's how you get back up from there. Whether its having to pull teeth out to get out of that bed that day and get outside and see the sunlight. And just continue on, don't allow something that you're being categories by to kill you. Allow yourself to kill that and continue on because we only have one life to life. And we can look at all the negativity but what will it do for us,you messed up, that's fine, just get up and keep going.