While Mental Health Awareness Month is recognized nationally each year in May, it is a medical issue that is present and prevalent in our population every moment, every day of the year.
I was inspired and driven to author this article about mental health issues as they were the subject of essays submitted by students seeking a scholarship award from The Clay Davison Legacy Scholarship Fund; a fund established with the Kenosha Community Foundation that awards scholarships to students pursuing a degree in a mental health-related field of study.
Here’s the backstory of this fund: Its namesake, Clay Davison, was a talented Kenosha teenager; an accomplished athlete who enjoyed football, baseball, boxing and weightlifting. He was comedic; dinnertime was referred to as the “Clay Show.” Clay was popular; a friend, advisor, and confidant. From an outsider’s point of view, Clay had it all. Yet, at the age of 14, Clay started experiencing depression issues. Despite the efforts of his family and loved ones encouraging him to seek help, Clay’s decisions took him down a dark path that resulted in him taking his life on June 21, 2014.
Clay’s mother, Felicia Labatore, stated: “Clay made thousands of great decisions throughout his life, and I will never let this one decision define who he was.”
Felicia made a promise to do everything in her power to bring awareness to mental health issues. She further stated, “I want every person; you, me, son, daughter or loved one, to be healthy, happy and truly live their life without fear of being labeled.”
And, thus, the inspiration to create a legacy in Clay’s memory took hold. It seems apropos, since Clay was considered a comedian, that his family and loved ones organized a comedy show. The fundraiser provided the seed money that established the Clay Davison Legacy Scholarship fund with the Kenosha Community Foundation.
Each scholarship applicant responds to this question: “How have you or your family been affected by mental health issues or crises?”
The essays were compelling. They read like the narrative in a novel, yet these stories are real, not fiction. Due to the sensitive nature of their essay content, one will note attribution, and another will not.
Tristin Jantz, a Westosha Central graduate and scholarship award recipient, wrote about her odyssey through finding treatment, exacerbated by insurance/payment issues and delays in finding a provider due to the increased demand for mental healthcare treatment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With treatment delayed, Tristin found therapy through tennis. It renewed her flagging energy. Additionally, she focused her energy on organizing a Walk for Autism Awareness fundraiser. These activities sustained her until she was able to see her physician.
Tristin states that “… I understand. These two simple words upended my entire mentality towards my mental health … I was convinced that no one could possibly understand what was happening in my head; I felt like no words could be used to describe my anguish — but the doctor understood. Months ago, I sat hunched over in a chair in the doctor’s office from embarrassment. Now, I eagerly await the time when I can show others that they are truly seen. Just having one person to say ‘I understand’ gives hope. In the near future, I will return the honor of giving it to others.”
Another applicant wrote: “This is a difficult essay for me to write and I feel I have a connection to Clay and his story. I too had the label of being funny, smart and an overall good life. Everybody thought I had everything I needed and there was nothing for me to be depressed about. Everything I have been through has made me look at the world through a different lens.”
I’ll conclude with a student scholarship applicant’s insightful essay quote (wisdom well beyond a teenager): “People may appear to be happy on the outside, but nobody knows the mental struggles that may be going on inside. The way you treat someone may give someone hope and the encouragement to hang on to just one more day. It is important to walk gently in the lives of others. Not all wounds are visible.”