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Cincinnati nonprofit works to normalize mental illness

February 22, 2018 | By Mollie Lair

Mental health conditions affect one in five people, but they often go undiscussed.

It’s a messy and complicated topic. One woman is working to change the stigma surrounding these common, but misunderstood, disorders.

Thousands of children in greater Cincinnati are suffering quietly.

Many of them are afraid to speak out because of the stigma attached to mental health issues.

The nonprofit 1N5 is giving them new hope and a new way to ask for help.

Beneath Ruku Pal’s smile lies a condition she once felt was a dark secret.

“I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder when I was a sophomore,” said Pal.
The high school senior is far from alone.

University of Cincinnati sophomore Lauren Tebbe suffers from anxiety attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“It’s kinda just like the scariest part of the movie, just really heightened, and it just keeps going up and up until you explode,” she said.

The two students are now part of a group working to break through the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Everyone judges everything so you just try to blend in with the rest, but that was the hardest part because I knew I was so different. I just didn’t know what was different about me,” Tebbe said.

“That perception that mental illness is a burden is demeaning,” said Pal. “It’s difficult for me to say I have this issue because I think people will look down on me because of it.”

The organization called 1N5 is a Cincinnati nonprofit giving a voice to young people diagnosed with a mental illness. Its name is a direct reference to how many people suffer from a mental health disorder — 1 in 5. Executive director Nancy Eigel-Miller is leading the charge.

She founded 1N5 after her husband’s suicide 10 years ago.

“Our youth are really struggling,” said Eigel-Miller. “The amount of anxiety and depression has escalated. Since 2012, it’s almost doubled.”

Eigel-Miller found that, on average, it takes 10 years for students to get help because the stigma keeps them from speaking up. But their voices are growing stronger.

“The thing that became very apparent was that the kids are not afraid,” she said. “The kids know that this is a problem and they’re, like, ‘Get out of the way. Hear our voice.'”
She offered them a platform to do just that in testimonials that are posted to the nonprofit’s Facebook page.

“People were just, like, ‘This is empowering,’ and a lot of people that I didn’t know struggled with mental illness as well stepped out and said, ‘This was really helpful. I was going through the same thing.’ And that was what was most rewarding to me,” said Tebbe.

“We live in this world where it’s, like, everybody is so connected and yet everybody is very lonely,” said Eigel-Miller. “And that’s a very bad combination.”

The 1N5 organization is tackling the issue head-on by helping schools implement mental health programming.

So far, that includes five local universities and 12 high schools.

“We know we’ve saved kids, that the language is there. The kids are asking the questions and they’re (the schools are) getting them the help they need,” said Eigel-Miller.

Once someone is diagnosed, it’s easier to cope.

“Journaling and coloring are my favorite (coping) skills,” said Pal.

Tebbe makes weighted blankets to calm her anxiety. The nonprofit 1N5 has helped normalize the teens’ daily struggles and these young women hope it helps address an issue many see as taboo.

“There’s so much more to it than what you see on the surface,” said Tebbe. “Especially, people with mental illness like to hide a lot of things.”

“I want the struggle to be understood. I think one of the worst parts of mental illness is you can’t see it,”said Pal.

The organization 1N5 recently won a $250,000 grant that will help it make an impact on the lives of more students.

Last year, the nonprofit helped around 85,000 kids. Its largest fundraiser is coming up on April 21.

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