Mental Health Awareness: Starting the Conversation about Depression
For 16 years, Milton Hershey School graduate Troy Scott has experienced the personal effects of mental illness. The first time he experienced depression was during his freshman year at Milton Hershey School, and he remembers being unsure about his feelings. Since graduating in 2003, Scott has experienced both triumphs and setbacks throughout his journey with depression. Most importantly, he maintains the belief that receiving help is necessary in one’s journey with mental health matters.
For Mental Health Awareness Month, Scott hopes to create a broader dialogue around the topic of mental health. To spark greater conversation, he opened up about his battle with depression and the support he received at MHS and beyond.
Persevering in the Face of Setbacks
After developing depression, Scott frequently felt sad, disconnected and hopeless-feelings that led to a vague reference of suicide. Thankfully, he had various forms of support provided to him at MHS to help him understand and overcome his feelings.
“At the time, we had peer counselors,” Scott explained. “I was really close to one of them, so I went to her and told her how I was feeling.”
Depression was relatively new to Scott. He describes it as a looming feeling of disinterest in life and everything that comes along with it, including school/work responsibilities, personal hygiene and menial tasks. While it was frightening to confront these symptoms of depression, he started to make progress by connecting with support systems.
“Overall, I felt very supported at MHS,” he said. “I was in counseling at the time, and I was involved with psychological services. I also confided in my peer counselor a lot.”
Milton Hershey School serves the whole child by enforcing a 1:19 ratio of student-to-health professionals, administering medications, and providing health screenings, sports assessments, immunizations, dental care, and individual and group psychotherapy-all cost-free to students.
After graduation, Scott continued to surround himself with supportive people to help him rise above the challenges associated with depression. However, like any physical or mental illness, depression requires effort and attention to ensure it does not persist. Scott has had several inpatient stays and works with a case manager who has encouraged him to help others suffering from mental illness.
Getting to a place where he can raise awareness for mental health is one of Scott’s proudest accomplishments.
Stopping the Stigma
Scott works at Hershey Roads Family Restaurant where he has created a “Stop the Stigma” campaign for Mental Health Awareness Month.
“There’s a stigma attached to mental illness that causes people to [forget to talk about it],” Scott said as he explained the meaning behind the campaign. “If someone has diabetes, high blood pressure or a broken foot, you would say ‘Go to the doctor and get it checked out.’ It should be the same for mental illness.”
The restaurant staff is wearing green throughout the month, a color that represents Mental Health Awareness Month. Scott says their colored ribbons and shirts have helped customers feel comfortable sharing their own stories and also sparked important questions from diners who want to learn more about the cause.
As part of the campaign, he also chose to support a local charity in Harrisburg called Patch-N-Match. The organization gives people with mental and intellectual disabilities a safe place to eat meals and interact with others. He originally aimed to raise $250 for the charity but has already reached $650 thanks to corporate sponsors.
“Mental health is highlighted in May, but I’m passionate about it every day,” Scott said.
He plans to volunteer at Patch-N-Match throughout the year and organize larger mental health awareness events.
Spreading Hope and Encouragement
Approximately one in five U.S. adults suffer from some form of mental illness in a given year. But only 41 percent of adults and 50 percent of children actually receive mental health services.
To reassure people to talk about depression and learn how to overcome it every day-not just in May-Scott shared his best advice for showing true strength.
He encourages people with depression or any mental illness to find a solid support system. Without one, it’s easy to experience more obstacles.
“One of my main support systems is still my houseparents from MHS. We’ve been in each other’s lives for 23 years,” Scott said. “I call them ‘mom’ and ‘dad,’ and I talk to them probably once or twice a month. If I’m ever feeling down or need someone to talk to, I know I can call [my housemom].”
The National Center for Children in Poverty states that, “Many successful (health services) strategies occur in schools and other settings where children and youth spend most of their time.”
While being open to talking about mental illnesses and asking for help are scary concepts for young people and adults, Scott preaches the alternatives could be more dangerous.
“One thing I learned at MHS is that everyone is there to help you,” he shared. “If you’re feeling sad, confide in a teacher. Confide in the janitor. Whoever you can confide in, do it. If it wasn’t for my peer counselor [and the support I received], I don’t know what would have happened to me.”
Scott believes asking for help is the best way for people suffering from a mental illness to take care of themselves. He encourages people to stop viewing themselves as weak for asking for help. At the end of the day, getting the support he needed was a sign of strength and helped him have the courage to share his story.
Learn more about Milton Hershey School’s support services and read our white paper, “How Schools Can Help Break the Cycle of Poverty: A Whole Child Approach”.