Students poured into Wilks Theater in the Armstrong Student Center, many of them sporting red bracelets with the hashtag “here for you.” Red and white name tags identified people as employees of Student Counseling Services (SCS), there to see the speech but also to make themselves available to anyone who might be triggered by it. When the lights dimmed and the first speaker took the stage, there was barely an open seat left.
Tuesday’s annual Mental Health Forum, presented by Miami University Associated Student Government (ASG) in conjunction with Active Minds and SCS, sought to raise awareness to the mental health issues people face and to let anyone struggling with mental health challenges that they are not alone.
An Australian athletic trainer Alexa Towersey, better known as “Action Alexa,” spoke first and discussed her story of dealing with her mother’s mental illness.
Her mom was diagnosed as manic depressive in a time when there was a lot of stigma about mental health, and not nearly as much was known about the disorder compared to modern medical knowledge.
Because of this, no one talked about it. To this day, she doesn’t know how her dad felt about her mom’s diagnosis, because they ignored the subject completely.
“I don’t have many regrets in life, but one of them was that I didn’t have the tools or the awareness or the education to give my mum the love, the help, the support that she so rightly deserved,” Towersey said.
When Towersey was 17 years old, she walked in on her mom attempting suicide. Her mom survived, but no one in the family fully healed from that experience.
Towersky spoke about how she wanted to tell her mom’s story and talk about mental health for years, but this was the first time she was given the chance to do so in front of a large crowd.
“When you share your story, you empower others to share theirs. When you choose to be brave and speak up, you empower others to have that courage. When you choose kindness, you empower other people to be kind, and when you choose love, you empower others to not just love but to accept love in return, and that is just as important,” Towersky said.
After Towersky spoke, mental health advocate Kevin Hines told his own story about struggling with mental illness. He remembers hearing voices in his head from a young age, but he tried to push them aside and was afraid of how people would react if he told them.
When Hines was 19 years old, he made the decision to take his own life. He told himself if just one person asked him how he was, if he was ok, he wouldn’t do it.
But no one asked.
So Hines went to the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped.
“The millisecond my hands left that rail, I had an instant regret for my actions and an absolute recognition that I had just made the greatest mistake of my life, and it was too late,” Hines said.
Hines was in the 3 percent of people that attempt suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge and survive.
Of that small percentage, he was one of only five people who have gained full mobility. He now travels the country sharing his story of hope and delivering the message that he so desperately longed to hear as he was getting ready to jump: that someone cared.
Hines’ mental illness didn’t go away after his jump. He still struggles with suicidal thoughts, but now he asks for help and leans on family and friends.
“I wish I knew what I know now that my thoughts do not have to become my actions,” Hines said.
At the end of his speech, Hines asked everyone to stand up. On the count of three he had everyone shout, “Be here tomorrow.”
The room echoed as Hines asked the audience to repeat these words three times, each time louder than the first in the hopes that every single person in that auditorium would indeed still be here tomorrow.