• andressa.andrade

Spreading The Love: It Starts With One

Mental health is a serious topic. We’ve all heard the statistics. 1 in 4 people will experience some sort of mental illness in the course of their life. The situation is even more severe if we’re talking about teenagers and young adults, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among that population in the US.

In such a scenario, it’s easy for us to feel helpless. Especially when you are young, it can seem like there’s nothing you can do to make things better, neither for you nor for others.

But today, we at TTH want to bring you a story of inspiration and hope. This is the tale of a girl who once felt hopeless but who rediscovered her power and is now helping and inspiring thousands with her mental health advocacy. We’re, of course, talking about Nicole Vana and her incredible non-profit, Spreading The Love.

From feeling helpless to being an inspiration

When she was 17, Nicole had already been struggling with depression for a while. Like many teens who live with mental illness, she saw no light at the end of the tunnel anymore. She felt trapped, lonely, and powerless. It was 2013, she was in her senior high school year, and she wanted to end her life.

One day, she decided to create an anonymous Twitter account to have a place where she could express her feelings and talk about her journey without feeling judged. She didn’t know it yet, but that decision would change her life.

Her first tweet contained only three words — “Never lose hope.” And it was more of a message to herself than to anyone else.

The good news? She never did. It was difficult, of course, but she managed to keep hoping and keep fighting. Even better — through her account, she began to help others find their lost hope. With time, Nicole found a new passion in helping those who were struggling.

In 2014, she decided to change her account’s name to its current one — Spreading The Love. It only kept on growing after that. She started to receive messages from people all around the world telling her that she had changed their lives. She had helped them in their darkest times and she continued to inspire them every day. Those messages, in turn, inspired Nicole to pursue a Psychology major in college and to keep on investing in her mission to end the stigma and help others.

Finally, in April 2017, Spreading The Love (STL) officially became a non-profit. This was a very important step in the organization’s history. They are now able to get more support and take on bigger projects.

Nicole’s story is definitely a huge inspiration for all teens who wish they could make a change but feel like it’s impossible. This girl is here to tell you that you can do it. If you just remember to never lose hope, you can change not only your own life but also the lives of others. Change can start with the smallest of steps — such as opening an anonymous account online.

To learn more about her journey and her work, Roddy and I (Andressa) asked Nicole a few questions. She was very sweet in her replies and inspired us a lot. Check it out below!

A mission to spread love and end the stigma

NOTE: Both questions and answers received minor edits to improve clarity. Their general content was not altered.

TTH: Tell us about Spreading The Love’s mission and work. Why is this work so important in 2018?

N.V.: Spreading The Love's mission is to put an end to bullying and to the stigma surrounding mental illness and to prevent suicide through awareness, education, and social support. This is extremely prevalent in 2018 because I think that our society is finally beginning to see the importance of talking about mental health and suicide. With the number of mental illnesses and suicides increasing, it's imperative that people are aware of these issues and to keep reminding them to speak up about them because they ultimately affect each and every one of us, either directly or indirectly.

TTH: If you are comfortable with and willing, please share with us some of what you were dealing with at 17, how you overcame it, and how it motivated you to start Spreading The Love.

N.V.: When I was 17 years old I was diagnosed with depression, and I tried to end my life at the beginning of my senior year in high school. It was a very difficult time for me and it wasn't until my parents found a suicide note under my pillow that they really began to push me to seek out help. Although I was on medication and seeing a counselor, I was still struggling and that was when I turned to Twitter. I made an anonymous Twitter account (which would eventually become Spreading The Love) and I used it to help me cope with what I was going through. I began to talk to people from all around the world who were going through similar things as me and it really opened my eyes as to how common these problems are. There wasn't just one single thing that motivated me to start Spreading The Love, it was a mixture of things. My own experiences and the fact that I didn't want anyone else to feel the way that I once had; the lack of education and awareness that surrounds mental illness and suicide; and noticing that a lot of these issues were also happening with the people I loved were some of the many motivating factors for me to turn my anonymous account into Spreading The Love.

TTH: How has your life changed since you started Spreading The Love?

N.V.: I think my life has changed in a lot of different ways. Nowadays, I spend most of my free time doing some sort of new project for my nonprofit and working with others to create awareness and hope. I've met a lot of cool people along the way that have similar goals as me and it's opened up my life to new opportunities. I've found a real passion in the mental health arena for myself and I'm excited to see what the future holds for my nonprofit.