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Julia's Journey: Fostering Healing in a Stigmatized World with the Healthy Minds Alliance

Julia Puzone

Those with a clear vision of the current mental health landscape understand it takes a particularly resilient person to deliver quality care to someone struggling with a mental health challenge. Among these people are the inspiring alumni of the Healthy Minds Alliance, a program under AmeriCorps that provides crucial mental health education to community members and professionals. For those who choose to join the Healthy Minds Alliance, the decision is one of unwavering commitment to impact the mental health landscape in America.

The path of service is a uniquely individual and uncharted journey, one with moments of challenge and triumph. Some people are more poised to take on this challenge than others, and among them is Julia, a standout alumna of the Healthy Minds Alliance. Julia carries a profound commitment to fostering change, dismantling stigma, and cultivating a more compassionate society. We discover in her story that service is selfless, sometimes motivated by a simple desire to help others learn to heal.

“I want to be the person that you get linked to. I want to be the person that actually does the healing.”

Julia began working in mental health right out of college as an Emergency Medical Technician. It was 2020 then, and COVID-19 was the most feared and misunderstood it would ever be in the national consciousness. During this experience, she made an important discovery. “I was surprised by how many patients I had for mental health-related challenges,” she shares.

She couldn't help but notice something vital was missing in the way the patients were being treated and supported. “It felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” was her ambitious response to a system neglecting the people she wished she could do more to help. That’s when her friend, a Healthy Minds Alliance alumni, encouraged her to apply to the program. After enrolling, she shares, “I felt very empowered. Like I was going to be able to make a difference.”

Julia enrolled in mental health courses that covered a wide range of ages, but her main interest was working with the teenage population. She believes that they are “one of the most important target audiences,” when it comes to the conversation surrounding mental health. And she's right - according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in five teens suffer from at least one diagnosable mental health disorder. The number is only rising, with both anxiety and depression diagnoses going up over 25% from 2016 to 2020 in teens.

When asked if she could recall a moment that encapsulated the essence of her service, she chose a moment that challenged her. At the end of her training with high schoolers, she mentioned she would be available for anyone who wished to chat privately.

Once, a student came up to her with tears in their eyes, asking what someone should do if they had no idea a person was struggling until it was too late. She affirmed that sometimes you can’t tell, and what happens to someone else isn’t their fault. “It seemed like they weren’t able to have that conversation with anyone before,” she admits. “They wish they could have done more. But just me telling them that they are enough and did enough,” she pauses before continuing thoughtfully, “they were able to find peace in that.”

It’s challenging to navigate these conversations, but they’re more important than ever to have with each other. Helping one another find peace, holding space by listening, and asking the hard questions - this is what’s really at the heart of service in mental health. Julia saw that moment with the student as an opportunity to model vulnerability, which is the untaught skill that helps others heal.

Her reflection is a testament to the way personal and professional growth is interwoven for those who serve with the Healthy Minds Alliance. Julia left her service more confident and grateful than when she began, while also making connections in her professional training. She enriched her own life, and also the lives of the people she empowered along the way.

Usually, when talking about the legacy of an alumnus of the program, the focus is on what they accomplished during the program. But for Julia, the focus is on the future. She’s confident when she says her career goal has always been to be a doctor. She shares this as a testament to her commitment:

“In all the trainings, I talk about the people you can go to for help. I always say I’m not the one to go to, I’m just showing you how to be the link.” She continues, “I want to be the person that you get linked to. I want to be the person that actually does the healing.” It’s moving, and the sense is that in several years when asked again about her legacy, she will credit the Healthy Minds Alliance as the catalyst for her growth and career.

Looking ahead, the alumni of the Healthy Minds Alliance envision a future where the stigma surrounding mental health continues to diminish. A future where more people feel comfortable seeking help and conversations about mental health are commonplace. The path of service is a challenging but rewarding one that every AmeriCorps alumni has walked. Their journeys serve as a reminder that each one of us has the power to make a difference by fostering a more compassionate and understanding world.

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