secretKeeping Family Problems a Secret

Three years ago, when our youngest daughter agreed to co-write a series with me on her mental health journey, I felt trepidation. Would telling our family secret—that we suffered from a mental illness—change people’s opinions about us?

Sure, blog readers and close family friends already know that our family had struggled—one daughter handled her teenage angst by cutting. The other by eating too healthfully (when it becomes an obsession and you lose weight they call it orthorexia—anorexia’s first cousin). I had even admitted that I struggled with depression after God miraculously cured Pedro from cancer.

I confess that during the months that Sarah lived with us while she struggled with depression, no one really knew about her struggles. We spoke of it in vague terms, “She’s staying home with us and volunteering for a year while she figures things out.”

When she took a turn for the better (we thought), people noticed a difference right away. “She seems so much happier now!” Coworkers didn’t know our secret.

Her behavior abruptly changed from cheerful to volatile and angry on a very public forum. I started getting direct messages from those who knew her, asking me if I knew what she had done. The problem could no longer remain a secret.

Sharing the Secret Empowers

By telling our story in October of 2015, we discovered that sharing the secret with others empowered us. It empowered us to continue healing and to continue the process of restoration in our lives.

It also brought people out of the woodwork. People who shared privately that they, too suffered from a mental illness. I also had opportunities to pray with worried parents and share resources for finding help.

I don’t have a huge platform on the Internet. My tiny voice joins millions of other voices and I often feel as if I don’t make much of a difference. In January I felt lead to apply as a speaker for a breakout session at a huge teacher’s conference in Chicago this summer. I doubted they would accept my application—I don’t have a psychology degree, nor do I have a counseling license. I proposed to speak about “What You Don’t Know CAN Kill You (Or Someone You Love.”

In the section where it described my expertise, I confessed that my only expertise consisted in our family’s experience. I offered to be a panelist in case someone else had already chosen to talk about mental health and adolescents. Moses and I have a lot in common.

I received word this week that the organizers had chosen my topic for a break out session. Did I mention that I have moved from trepid to terrified? I could use your help. Since I have no expertise, but I do have opportunity, I’d love to act as the voice for more than just my family.

A Call for YOUR Help!

I need your help! If you could tell a roomful of educators what you wish they had noticed or done when you or someone you know struggled with a mental illness as an adolescent, what would you tell them? #mentalhealth #stopthestigma #bipolarIf you have suffered from a mental illness that manifested itself during your adolescence, or if you have an adolescent who has received a diagnosis, would you be willing to share with me? I have an opportunity act as the voice for those who suffer from a mental illness.

If you could tell a room full of Christian educators (I have no idea how many people will show up—anywhere from 10-200) a few things about you or the one you love, what would you tell them?

• What signs should they look for?
• Did your behavior/loved one’s behavior change?
• How long did it take for you or your loved one to receive help?
• Was the help helpful?
• If you spent time hospitalized, what do you wish your teachers or professors would have known that would have helped your transition back into school?
• Maybe as a child you had a parent with an untreated or undiagnosed mental illness. What could teachers have done to help you?
• What do you feel that educators should do (if anything) to educate their students about mental illnesses? At what age should mental health education begin?
• Do you feel as if the church understood your mental illness/loved one’s mental illness? What could the church do better?

I’d love to have your responses to any or all of the questions (or anything else you’d love educators to know). Send your responses to I’ll keep your secret safe and promise that only I will see your responses.

Pass it On, Please!

If you happen to be reading this, and don’t suffer, but know someone who does (or who has an adolescent struggling), would you kindly share this post with them?

Most of all, I crave your prayers as I prepare for the presentation. Together, we can help stop the stigma. What you share with me, and I share with educators, has the potential to save someone’s life.

It's time to #stopthestigma and share your wisdom about adolescents and mental illnesses. What do you wish that educators knew about #mentalillness? #mentalhealthawareness Click To Tweet
I need your help! If you could tell a roomful of educators what you wish they had noticed or done when you or someone you know struggled with a mental illness as an adolescent, what would you tell them? #mentalhealth #stopthestigma #bipolar


  1. Congrats and definitely praying as you prepare for this presentation. Thanks for being brave friend. I’d love to speak and tell my families story sometime. But fear always seems to get in the way. Your taking the leap and applying reminds me that sometimes you just need to take the leap and jump!

  2. You are very brave to volunteer like that. I too would be terrified. I have every confidence that you will do wonderfully and help so many people. Thanks for sharing your secret today. I know in doing so you will help others and feel lighter without that load on your shoulders.
    FMF #6 this week

  3. Anita, the only thing I can really contribute ould be to those teaching at the JC or college level, and dealing with returning veterans.

    ‘Combat trauma’ PTSD is NOT really a sense of guilt or shame at having to have killed people, or having seen death; a large component of it is the knowledge that you ill never in your life be as awesome as you were then.

    Kipling nailed it in the penultimate stanza of his poem, “The Return”:

    But now, discharged, I fall away
    To do with little things again….

  4. a genetic heritage of depression plus an incidence of assault put my daughter in a bad place. What i wish i could say to her teachers looking back? “Listen, be calm, stop trying to fix, listen again, believe her” Waaaaaaaaay more than any five step program, what she needed and did not get was a listening ear. She survived in spite of their “help” not because of it. i know they love her and meant well, but they added performance guilt on top of her existing troubles.

  5. Because you’ve shared your family “secret” more people have been helped and blessed than you’ll ever know. Keep sharing it and keep encouraging others to a healthy path toward wellness. You’re a Wonder-Woman! (I’m sharing this with my niece who wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until she was 19.)

  6. I’m basically only doing this because my mom asked me to. But I do wish people knew some stuff.
    Things I wish people understood:
    I’m 21 right now. When I was 15 I was first diagnosed with anxiety. My family spent 3 years running from doctor to doctor trying to get someone to diagnose me with something other than anxiety because, in their opinion, anxiety was just a doctor’s cop-out and meant “we have no idea what’s wrong, you’re making this up”. Things got really bad a little before I turned 18 and over several months (or a year?) I planned out to every last detail many times and got caught trying to commit suicide 3 times. But my parents STILL didn’t listen. I begged (really I just asked, because anxiety and I knew they hadn’t believed me in the past) for a counselor and they just hemmed and hawed. My friends kept pushing me, telling me I needed help, and several told me I might have bipolar. I finally got a counselor (can’t remember how) and in our first visit I handed her my suicide note and told her if she couldn’t help me I was probably going to kill myself because I couldn’t cope with the tigers that were stalking me. She was the first person to listen to me, the first person to believe me and get me help. I had been asking the only people I trusted (my friends) for help for years, and I had been leaving hints for my teachers at school, but my friends couldn’t help me because they didn’t live nearby and my parents were ignorant. I didn’t want any more problems from them. My mom went into an absolute panic but she was just as scared of professional help as she was of my killing myself. I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar for around 2 years now, and a mood disorder for around 3. I finally got help around 3.5 years ago. It was a big drama. My parents knew absolutely nothing about mental health professionals, and basically nothing about mental health. I didn’t tell my parents because I knew they would panic and do nothing. I didn’t tell my teachers because I knew they would panic and force me to go to the hospital or something (basically causing my parents to double panic). I HATE THE DRAMA. Teachers need to know how to recognize the most subtle hints, and they need to know how to pull that kid aside and connect them with an adult they trust (not the parents) and listen to that kid. Then they can get that kid other help. They need to know how to educate parents without panicking or causing panic, they need to know how to respond to suicidal anything without panicking. People are never going to confide in you ever again if you create a big drama complete with panic, trauma, and multiple forms of betrayal. We aren’t animals. If that kid has anxiety you’re going to break that trust. Somehow my counselor managed not to do that (obviously – she’s still my counselor), but if I find myself in that situation I will NEVER tell my parents that I am suicidal. I will NEVER tell my friends who have panicked in the past or who I know will immediately tell my parents. I will, however, ALWAYS tell my one friend who does not panic, who is always chill, and who I know will encourage me to find a plan, get help on my own, and only if absolutely necessary will she get me help. She is the ONLY person I know (other than my counselor) who does not openly panic at the word suicide. This world needs more people like that. This world needs people who know how to educate ignorant parents. This world needs people who can calmly explain to a scared, angry, hurt kid (by kid I actually mean anyone) what exactly is going to happen, and why, and to give them choices to help them be in control. This world also needs more counselors like mine though I’m not sure that’s going to be very easy. The part about respectful, considerate doctors, NPs, Psychiatrists, PMHNPs etc isn’t as hard, but we need those too. Basically, I wish professionals knew how to educate parents. (I was diagnosed with anxiety repeatedly for three years in a row and nobody knew how to actually explain anxiety to my parents in such a way that they could understand. It’s absolutely pathetic!)

    If nothing else, I really, really wish they knew how to respond to a mental health crisi without stripping us of our dignity, instilling fear, creating a culture of distrust, and teaching us to never ask for help.

  7. i’m so excited that you have this opportunity anita:) i know you will do a great job! i have some info to contribute as the oldest child of someone who was chronically depressed. should i send it to your email?

  8. I’m in a new place. Maybe we should email about this. But my 13 year old daughter came to me almost a month ago and told me she was depressed to the point of wanting to self-harm. That was the scariest moment. The advice I would give is to listen. Take it seriously. Don’t try to explain it away. Listen. We are at the start of our journey. I’m sure it is far from over.


  9. What a brave and enormously important thing you are doing, Anita. I don’t have family experience but in my 32 years of teaching I certainly received hands on experience with students in my classroom. I applause and admire your courage and I know that you are and will impact more lives than you’ll ever know! God Bless You Sister😉 Cindy
    Cindy Wilkins recently posted…Secret Recipe ~ Five Minute FridayMy Profile

  10. This is AWESOME, Anita! You are going to kill this talk. I know it. And I’m so, so thankful that you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone and speak for the suffering. This is the Lord’s work and I believe that He will greatly bless you for it.

    (Also, you’ll be getting an email from me).
    Marie recently posted…Five Minute Friday: SecretMy Profile

  11. Wow – I applaud you for being willing to share and to do this teaching session! God certainly has someone in mind that needs to hear more of your story. No doubt, you will be blessed in the process as well!

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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