Allison Schmitt wipes away tears during the medal ceremony after Team USA won the women's 800m freestyle relay gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.(Photo: MARTIN BUREAU, AFP/Getty Images)
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Allison Schmitt tapped her chest and had a powerful, direct message for millions of American children with depression or other mental health disorders.
“Put your hand over your heart, feel that beat and know that's called purpose,” said Schmitt, a Canton High School Hall of Fame swimmer and eight-time Olympic medalist in freestyle. “So you all have a purpose in this world and you're all loved.”
Schmitt delivered her 90-second video pep talk to kids as part of the second annual #MyYoungerSelf social media campaign, linked to National Mental Health Awareness Month during May.
The campaign was launched May 1 by national nonprofit The Child Mind Institute of New York and featured athletes, actors, authors and other celebrities reminding children that everybody — famous or not — deals with mental health issues.
According to a press release from The Child Mind Institute, an estimated 17.1 million children in the United States today “have or once had a mental health disorder — more than the number of children with cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.”
Don't keep it in
Depression got Schmitt down over the years, but never totally out.
Yet after the 2012 Olympics, Schmitt stopped swimming in international meets. It took the friendship and advice of fellow Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps to help lift her out of her doldrums.
Allison Schmitt signs a swim cap for 9-year-old Colin Witt of Livonia during a recent appearance at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth. (Photo: TIM SMITH)
With encouragement from Phelps, she started to see a psychologist. Ultimately, Schmitt climbed out of the darkness and made a successful comeback — winning gold and silver medals at 2016 Rio Games.
So she knows about the benefit of finding ways to keep lines of communication open, no matter how difficult talking about her emotions might be at times.
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“If I can tell my younger self what I now know about depression, I would say, ‘You're not crazy, you're not weird,’” Schmitt said in her video segment. “We're humans, we all have emotions — whether it's happy, sad, frustrated, angry, excited, silly. It's OK to have those emotions, but it's not OK to isolate.
“Have those hard conversations, those tough conversations. And then, know it's not easy. The first time, maybe not the second time, maybe not the third, maybe not the 10th. But it allows the weight to get off our shoulders.
“It allows us to live more freely with the help of others. Remember, we're all unique, we're all loved and each person adds a special puzzle piece to this world.”
They're not alone
Schmitt and other celebrities, such as Lindsey Stirling, Ginger Zee, Charles Schwab, Jessica McCabe, Tim Howard and Adam Grabowski, created homemade, inspiring messages talking to “their younger selves.”
Those short videos were recorded on their smartphones and shared via Child Mind Institute’s social media channels and website (childmind.org).
U.S. Olympic gold-medal winner Allison Schmitt revels in the hometown welcome during a 2016 rally at Heritage Park Amphitheater in Canton Township. (Photo: TIM SMITH)
The public got involved by sharing and liking videos on social media and uploading their own videos with hopeful messages to their younger selves.
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Child Mind Institute president and founder Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz emphasized that the #MyYoungerSelf campaign strives to “eradicate the stigma that keeps the one in five young people who struggle with a mental health or learning disorder from getting help and reaching their potential.
“We all know and love these children — if it’s not your son or daughter, it’s a niece or a nephew or your child’s best friend at school,” Koplewicz said. “#MyYoungerSelf represents our society, whether you’re famous or not, coming together to get these kids the help they need.”
Ready to listen
Soothing words can provide balm, whether from celebrities, family, friends or mental health professionals.
David Majchrzak falls into the latter category. He is a limited licensed psychologist at Oakland Psychological Clinic, where he tries to lift the veil of gloom for patients as young as age 12. Oakland Psychological Clinic has counseling centers in eight locations, including Bloomfield Hills, Livonia and Milford.
“Teens are under more pressures and challenges than parents and families know,” Majchrzak said. “And a lot of times, teenagers will try to be very strong and cope in the best way they can. But I think parents and society in general, the standards (on young people) are pretty hard.
“Kids don’t have the coping skills and they get swamped, then they get very depressed for ‘you’re not being perfect, you’re not being good enough.’ But they hold it to themselves, they don’t want to upset their teacher, their family, their peers.”
Majchrzak said there are too many “outcome-based” activities filling teenagers’ lives, including academics, social interactions and sports.
“There’s less of just being able to be themselves,” he said. “They feel it at their age, very much so, but they can’t place it. That’s where a lot of kids get stuck.”
Through efforts such as #MyYoungerSelf and by teenagers not being ashamed to talk to teachers, counselors or even psychologists, Majchrzak is hopeful that their feelings of despair will subside.
“The problem is never as big as you feel or think. You’re not a burden to anybody when you need help,” Majchrzak said. “Help is always there. Trust that others will listen or be there.
“You feel more empowered when you know you’re not the only one going through this. Those (#MyYoungerSelf) clips and that kind of support is awesome, because a lot of kids think, like, ‘It’s only me. I’m the only one who has this.’”
ABOUT CHILD MIND INSTITUTE: The Child Mind Institute is an independent, national nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. Go to childmind.org for more information.
Olympic medalist freestyle swimmer Allison Schmitt competes during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. (Photo: Melissa Lundie Photography)
Contact Tim Smith at . Follow him on Twitter: @TimSmith_Sports.
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