Ten years ago, I nervously held a piece of paper in my hands as I stood in front of a classroom of no more than 20 students at Brashear High School in Pittsburgh. I was about to publicly share, for the first time, my story of battling and living with mental illness. My heart was racing and my hands were sweaty, but my gut was telling me I was exactly where I needed to be.

While I was officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder when I was a freshman in college, high school was the start of the demise of my mental health. If I was going to have an impact on any audience, it had to start in rooms like this.

I shared about the daily panic attacks, the hospital visits, the weight loss and sleepless nights. I told them about being taken off my college campus on a stretcher and having oxygen masks on my face. I told them about learning what true, complete terror felt like. I shared the honest, unfiltered reality of some of the worst days of my life and the long, difficult road to recovery. I shared how I continue to manage my diagnosis and the daily work and tenacity it takes to maintain my mental health.

I shared the truth, even as my voice shook, because I knew I was meant to shake the world.

As I looked around the room, I could see tears in some students’ eyes. I could see others nodding along with me. I could see smiles of connection — and I knew I had found my place. What I was saying was important and I needed to continue to say it as many times as people would let me.

Jordan Corcoran, founder of Listen, Lucy, stands for a portrait on Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Troy Hill. Corcoran was was officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder as a freshman in college. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/Rtvsrece)

“I shared the truth, even as my voice shook, because I knew I was meant to shake the world.”

That’s what I’ve done for the last decade. I have met students from all ages and demographics. I have met their parents and teachers. I have shared my story with tens of thousands across the country, and the more I spoke, the more they spoke, courageously telling me experiences of assault, depression, addiction, trauma, grief, lack of self-confidence and consuming anxiety. Spending time in their communities and hearing their stories has made something crystal clear to me: People are deeply struggling. Raising awareness and normalizing the conversation surrounding mental health is very important — but that alone isn’t nearly enough.

A few months ago, I was driving with Sara Veri, the digital content director for the mental health organization I lead, to a school on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. I was about to present back-to-back assemblies at the tail end of going nonstop for months. In truth, I was feeling burnt out and exhausted. My anxiety was sitting in my chest and in my teeth and I felt overexposed. I talked it through with Sara, getting out what I had bottled up, and by the time we pulled into the parking lot, I was feeling ready to share my story again, to another audience, hoping to connect with kids that need it.

Jordan Corcoran, founder of Listen, Lucy, is silhouetted for a portrait on Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Troy Hill. Corcoran’s mental health took a turn for the worse when she was in high school. “If I was going to have an impact on any audience, it had to start in rooms like this,” she writes. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/Rtvsrece)

After both assemblies, kids lined up to share their stories with me. This wasn’t a rare occurrence. When anyone shares their stories in a vulnerable, raw way, people tend to feel permission to do the same. It is an incredible privilege to hear their stories and one I will never take lightly — but this time their words were impacting me in a bigger way. As students shared heartbreak after heartbreak with me, I could feel my chest tightening up. The amount of loss, grief, and adversity these young people were handling day after day was too much for me to shake off.

At the end of the line of the second assembly, a student fought through tears as she shared with me that she had lost her brother to suicide just two weeks before my visit. She almost collapsed into my arms as I hugged her. It rocked me.

Jordan Corcoran, founder of Listen, Lucy, travels nationally and locally to talk about mental health with students. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Corcoran)

By the time I got to my car after the presentations, I was in tears. At that moment, it felt like I wasn’t creating any change at all. It felt like I had been baring my soul for a decade and that I hadn’t even moved the needle. I said to Sara, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

I am determined almost to my detriment. To feel this way was a shock to my system. I felt depleted.

It took me some time, but I got through that defeated feeling and moved to motivation and focus. The stories of the students were no longer making me feel like I had failed. They inspired me to elevate and use their experiences and my own to create systemic change on a larger level.

My new goals moving forward are:

  1. Advocate with lawmakers to require annual mental health screenings for students across Pennsylvania
  2. Secure more accessible mental health resources for postpartum mothers
  3. Host an annual mental health conference in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month in Pittsburgh starting next May.

These goals seem big and complicated to achieve. That’s never stopped me before. Saying them aloud and making them public knowledge is nerve-racking. What if I fail? What if I’m judged for thinking I can create change on this level? Well, that’s never stopped me before either.

Our stories, experiences and words matter. They help us shift society to create action that can better the world. I plan to continue to use my story to make sure that generations after me have a better, more accessible way to prioritize their mental well-being without the same stigma that stopped me from getting the help I desperately needed.

We deserve more. We deserve better. This is not the time for me to give up. It is time for me to get to work.

Jordan Corcoran is a Pittsburgh native and the founder of Listen, Lucy, a mental health organization. If you want to reach Jordan, email firstperson@rtvsrece.com.

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation has contributed funding to Rtvsrece’s healthcare reporting.

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