Part of the Hiding in Plain Sight blog series
Written by Kee Dunning, author & psychotherapist providing crisis intervention
February 24, 2022 / Forbes
Talking to others about your mental health isn’t an easy feat, especially if that person is your parent. Zion Williams, a high school student and Season 1 host of PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs’ On Our Minds alongside Noah Konevitch during the 2020-21 school year, and her mother, Gwen Littles-Williams, don’t have that problem at all. Zion regularly opens up to her mother about her mental health.
“Mom has always been open with me about talking about my mental health and my feelings, and I really appreciate her for that,” Zion said.
They both understand that they have to have uncomfortable conversations to heal and overcome mental health issues. When it’s time to discuss something serious, Zion approaches her mother wholeheartedly during what they call a “time out,” where they talk openly with a no-judgment zone. “This is where [she] tells mom what [she] needs,” Gwen said.
Gwen prides herself on always being approachable and open with others, especially with her own child. Once when Zion was overwhelmed with her school workload, she confessed to her mother that it was causing a lot of anxiety. She wanted to pull back on some of her extracurricular activities. Her mother let her know that it was okay to feel what she was feeling. “It’s ok to say you’re overwhelmed and need a little assistance,” Gwen said.
Not only does Zion talk about mental health with her mom, she also speaks openly with her friends. She has a good friend group that is very supportive, always validating her feelings and making her feel better about what she’s dealing with. Gwen turns to other family members to add to Zion’s support. “It’s a village; we’re a blended family. She and I talk, then me and her dad talk, then me and her bonus mom talk, and then me and her aunt will talk. We just really want her to be ok.”
With this knowledge and support for her mental health, Zion decided to spread the awareness and share her mental health journey on Season 1 of On Our Minds, which is a student-led and student-produced podcast, created as part of the public media youth mental health campaign Well Beings, about the youth mental health crisis in America. It features personal stories from students across the United States, and conversations with experts about mental health issues like anxiety, depression, isolation, and more. Season 2 premieres in May 2022, hosted by Matt Suescun of Bergen County Academies in Wyckoff, New Jersey, and Faiza Ashar of Eastern Technical High School in Baltimore, Maryland.
“When I realized I was going to be hosting On Our Minds, I was ecstatic to voice my opinions on mental health and gain advice from peers and professionals and always get to give advice and help others out,” said Zion. Gwen was also very proud and excited. “I knew it was something that had to be touched upon and I loved the fact she would be the face of On Our Minds with Noah and what she gained from professionals through the podcast was amazing.”
This show is for everyone. “Parents and kids, but the main focus is teen experiences; what we’re going through,” said Zion. On the show, people share their mental health stories. They touch on topics such as race, class, socioeconomics, mental health issues, and even meditation. Zion admits that the podcast taught her a lot about herself. She learned that it was unhealthy to bottle up your emotions; it’s important to process your emotions in the moment. “Hearing what professionals had to say about mental health and giving the audience and myself advice, that really helped me on my mental health journey,” Zion said. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without this podcast.”
Her mother also noticed a change in Zion after hosting On Our Minds. “She became even more open and honest,” she said. “She once stated on [an episode], ‘If your knee was broken you would go to a bone doctor, so if you have a concern with your mind, why wouldn’t you go to a mind doctor?’ As her mom, I was proud she made that connection. This podcast will [also] allow [other] people to make that connection and understand that it’s okay to say I’m having mental struggles and get some help.”
For those who find it difficult to open up, Zion recommends to keep trying. If you can’t talk to your parents, “find someone else in your life you can talk to openly.” Sometimes it’s a teacher or an acquaintance in the community; you never know who’s going to have an ear for you and say something worthwhile. As for parents, Gwen says, “don’t stop trying. Put forth the work; ask them how they’re doing and how they feel.”
Podcasts like On Our Minds is just the beginning; we, collectively, have a long way to go to erase the stigma associated with mental health. Zion agrees, stating “we need to get rid of the ideology that we need to push ourselves to a breaking point to be successful. We need to rest and take a break; take a deep breath. If we sat with ourselves, our decisions, and everything that’s going on in our country, we could better understand it and improve our mental health.”
To watch excerpts from this interview, visit PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs YouTube page or click here.
About the Author
Kee Dunning is a psychotherapist in private practice, adjunct faculty and author, writing on topics such as rural youth suicide risk assessment and intervention, cognitive behavioral therapy, teen dating abuse, bullying, and concepts in communication, anger and conflict management. For nearly two decades, Kee has provided crisis intervention for triage for homeless, trafficked, and at-risk youth and families and their support systems; and was Clinical Supervisor for Graduate Studies in Counseling at Montana State University.
The “Hiding in Plain Sight” Blog is a series leading to the upcoming 2022 documentary Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness, produced and directed by Ewers Brothers Productions, executive produced by Ken Burns, and presented by WETA, the PBS flagship station in our nation’s capital.