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Mentors Can Help Millennials Beat The Stigma Of Mental Illness

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I mentor young adults labeled and stigmatized with every mental health issue you can imagine. They all have two things in common when I meet with them: each one of these millennials has greatness hiding within them and they all feel imprisoned by their labels.

If I said to you "Hi! My name is Ken Rabow and 20 years ago, I couldn't get into a subway without wanting to freak out and smash the doors open from anxiety if we stopped for more than five seconds. I also made a plane taxi back so that I could get the hell out (way before 9/11)," what would you think?

(I have gotten my anxiety under control since then.)

Would you have said, "Hey! I wonder if he is a good teacher?" or "You think he's any good as a jazz drummer?" or "I'll bet he'll make a great life coach for teens one day!" I don't think so.

The world wants things to make sense. We feed each other in small bytes of "facts" so that they may be consumed and we can move onto judging the next item in our path.

I am not affected by your good opinion of me. Even less so by how you judge my challenges. It doesn't matter if you are my doctor, my priest or my parent, I will not be defined by my lacks, imbalances or labels.

So who stops me?

The harshest judge of your mental health... is you. No one is as hard or cruel on my clients suffering from mental health issues as they are on themselves. I am honoured that they trust me enough to let me in to witness their suffering. I see what they go through and I get it unfiltered.

What I hear them say about themselves, spoken or unspoken, are things like: "It's my fault I have X," "I'm so stupid" and other things too painful to repeat.

I listen. I say back what I am hearing and then I tell them... if the person in your head was your parent, they would be arrested? No one should have such a cruel voice taunting them. Let's find a new way to work with "the voice." That voice in your head really wants to help you. They think that by saying awful things to you, they will keep you safe.

First: give that voice a name:

Evil Coach, Angry Dad, Malevolent Mom, X. And then you have to talk to them. Tell them "Thanks for trying to help me. What you did kept me from trying things before but now I need you to become a supportive (albeit cautious) Coach/Dad/Mom/X."

Find a phrase you believe in:

"I am not my label" or make up your own.

Read inspirational books:

Think and Grow Rich, How to Win Friends and Influence People, anything by Wayne Dyer.

Slowly transform that voice into:

Inspirational coach, Loving Dad, Nurturing Mom or anything else that lets you try and be OK with falling on your ass from time to time, and growing from it.

Remember: It doesn't matter what someone calls you, or judges you as, or labels you, all that matters is knowing yourself. Choose to try to understand your strengths, your weaknesses and recognize when you are at the bottom of the well. There are times when anyone with any sort of sensitivity ends up there.

It is the worst place to be. There seems to be no way out. It seems that everything always brings you back here. Hope is abandoned. Tears replace anger or sullenness and life seems like a shit sandwich served on day-old bread.

Remember this... the bottom of the well is just that: the bottom.

It is the place you arrive at when a series of events, physical, emotional, time-based, chemical-physical and perchance spiritual combine to bring you to the lowest of the low. When you are out of that place, remember that even the well is just a temporary state, which occurs only when all the crappiest humors align.

Coming out of the well can be the start of seeing life anew.

You will have to remind yourself that the well is just what happens when all the crap aligns, and that it can be temporary. You must do all the things that you can to strengthen yourself, physically, emotionally, chemically (legal meds, holistic supplements or orthomolecular therapy as well as meditation) and time-wise. Learn to be kind to yourself and look for whatever is good... and find a mentor who is not hung up on labels.

A word to families of someone with a mental health label:

Just because a family member has a mental health problem doesn't mean that they "did it to themselves," are "acting like that to spite you" or that you need to save them. Nor is it the end of their possibilities in life.

As they get better it doesn't mean that they aren't the "other" thing anymore, either. We are all so many different things and some of the most inspiring people I've met struggle daily with mental health issues. Those people are some of the most courageous people I have known, with not just the courage to change the world but also to take one step forward when they have been living in a well for so long.

See the hero. Ask them what you can do to help.

If we all start to see the potential in each other, the stigma will be replaced with an ancient tribal rite... faith. Faith in the unfolding of life through mentoring each other to be our best and to accept us at our worst.

Interested in mentoring millennials? Check out

Know a millennial in need of mentoring? Check out

If you or someone you know is at risk please contact your nearest Crisis Centre or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a counsellor.

Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email

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