STAMFORD, Conn. — Westhill High School senior Ariana Venneri has a message about those who suffer from mental illnesses.
“A mental illness is a disorder — not a decision,” Venneri said at an event at the Stamford Government Center on Monday. “It’s not a character flaw. Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides to have cancer or diabetes or any other physical illness.”
Venneri, a member of the Mayor's Youth Leadership Council, joined several other high school students and mental health professionals for an Mental Health Resource Fair to recognize Mental Health Awareness Month.
Mental illnesses are not perceived the same way as physical illnesses, Venneri said. While people rush to sign the cast of someone who breaks an arm, they tend to avoid people with mental illnesses and shy away from candid discussions about the subject, she said.
“The stigma associated with mental illness prevents us from having these conversations,” Venneri said.
Allison Tovar, a senior at the Academy for Information Technology and Engineering, said she sees students every day who need help. But she said they avoid seeking help because they fear peer rejection and humiliation.
Tovar said that society needs to talk openly and honestly about mental illness. With 57.7 million Americans currently suffering from mental illnesses, nobody is immune, she said.
“This effects everyone,” Tovar said.
Students at the event also spoke about the increase in suicides nationwide. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 14, 15 to 24, and 25 to 34 in 2014.
Tovar, who urged attendees at the event to say the word suicide out loud to break the silence, said suicide is never the answer to ending personal challenges.
“Suicide doesn’t truly end the pain,” Tovar said. “It just passes it on to someone else.”
The event also included representatives with Silver Hill Hospital, Beacon Health Options, Family Centers and Kids in Crisis, among others.