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.
TTH: Knowing your past experiences and struggles, if you could talk to all youth who are struggling with feeling loved, worthy or wanted, what would you say to them and why?
N.V.: I would say you are stronger than your struggles. It may sound cliché or cheesy but it's true. You're stronger than your demons and you're stronger than whatever it is you're going through. You've made it this far and there are many people out there who care about you and love you. No matter what your thoughts tell you, you are needed in this world and you have so much to offer. You have to keep fighting for yourself and for those around you. One day all of this will be worth it, but you've got to keep fighting in order to finally reach the light at the end of the tunnel one day.
TTH: And what would you tell individuals who want to get more involved in the lives of those who are hurting in 2018?
N.V.: For those that want to get involved I would simply say find a way to get involved. I know there are a number of nonprofits (including my own) that gladly takes volunteers. If you're truly passionate about mental health awareness and suicide prevention, create a campaign or start your own movement whether this be online, in your community, or at your school. We need more mental health advocates in the world because it'll be the combination of all of the mental health advocates working together that will really start changing the conversation surrounding mental illness and suicide. If you'd like to get involved in my nonprofit, you can apply for a number of positions or you can contact us at email@example.com. We're currently looking for some STL representatives, fundraising coordinators, event planners, and design personnel (for designing merchandise).
Learn more about Spreading The Love and get involved!
If you want to know more about Nicole’s nonprofit, there are many places you can go to get in touch.
We definitely recommend you check out their blog. There, you will find many well-written, heartfelt articles. All of their writers have struggled with mental illness, suicidal thoughts or both. They understand better than anyone what it feels like to be in that place and they share great information, opinion pieces, and advice.
You can also find them on all of the main social media channels.
First, there’s obviously the Twitter account that started it all.
Then, there’s their Instagram account, where they share inspirational quotes, information about their latest projects, and the awesome hashtag, #MentalHealthMonday.
If you’re more of a Facebook person, make sure you follow their page to keep updated with their projects and with the mental health news they share.
Finally, there’s Nicole’s personal Youtube channel, where she talks about her healing journey and shares advice from her experiences. My (Andressa’s) favorite video is definitely 100 Reasons To Stay Alive. So worth the watch!
If you truly want to get involved, you can take the pledge to end the stigma and join their Wall of Supporters. This is a symbolic action that shows that you want to help them in their mission.
Other ways of supporting them, besides applying for a position in the team or donating to the My Pals app, include shopping in their store and supporting their various campaigns throughout the year.
Right now, they’re having their first 2018 campaign! It’s called Mental Health Matters and you can show your support by buying one of several exclusive products available on the official page of the campaign. This project ends on Feb. 17.
If there’s one thing we can learn from Nicole’s journey and her amazing nonprofit it’s that everything that’s good starts with one. One day, one person decides to do something. The next day, there’s a whole movement helping thousands of others.
So if you want to do something, do it. Take the first step, even if it’s a small one. The world needs your light. It can be the light at the end of the tunnel for someone out there. Or for yourself.
Interview: Roddy Biggs and Andressa Andrade
Article: Andressa Andrade
Editing and proofreading: Blake Newborn