Clarissa Perez, Founder and CEO of Joy & The Hood
Being a neurodivergent teenager was painfully difficult. I remember being scared to seek out therapy. I thought about what would happen if my dad knew. The difficulty of receiving mental health support when coming from an immigrant family like mine was no joke. My parent told me many times that my struggles with depression would never compare to the difficulty of being an immigrant in this country. Therefore, receiving mental health support wasn't only a sign of weakness but a sign of disrespect to my parent's struggle. Luckily, I withstood those harsh criticisms and sought out therapy at thirteen.
Did you know that according to Washington law, a minor who is 13 years old or older may initiate an evaluation and treatment for outpatient and/or inpatient mental health services, substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, or withdrawal management without parental consent?
(source: Washington State Health Care Authority)
This law was a game-changer for me. It meant that I could get help when I was struggling so badly. Eventually, the mental health support I received would help me through the adversity I'd endure in high school: losing my mom, my brother, and almost my own life due to a suicide attempt. High school was such a challenge for me due to these life-changing events. My experience with mental health is a long one that goes back even further than high school.
The harrowing experiences in my life have been many: sexual assault, poverty, gang violence, drug addiction, suicidal ideation, mental illness, and more. Yet, despite all of it, I always longed to be the girl who ""beat the odds"". I wanted to be the girl who still fought through her mental health battles despite the violence in my home, my brother being murdered, and being raised by parents who didn't know how to help me.
A bitterness for the world overcame me when my mom died, though. I filled my void by skipping class, drinking, and using drugs. I didn't care to fight for myself anymore. Temporarily losing hope in myself was the hardest thing I've endured, but I'm happy to say that through recovery, years of therapy, and an honest look at myself I have learned to love life again. I realized that I have always been a brave, strong woman through that journey. As that young woman, I overcame the worst years of my life, and I'm alive, I'm here, and no matter where life takes me I know I'll be okay. I no longer have to think about the future or the past. All I'll ever have is the present moment, where I'll continuously carry my pain, healing, and hope sacredly.
What resources/coping skills do I recommend for youth?
Undergoing numerous traumatic experiences, I had to learn how to cope with and overcome those difficult moments. The number one resource I recommend to any youth struggling with their mental health is mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness and meditation changed my life because they allowed me to create space between the intense emotions I was feeling and the actions I would take. It can be hard to learn how to be mindful or meditate. I know what it feels like not to meditate because it can appear ""boring"" or ""too hard just to sit still"". What I would suggest to any youth reading this, however, is that there is no ""right"" way to be mindful or meditate. There are many moments when humans do this naturally, like when we take a deep breath or go for a walk and notice all the beautiful things around us.
If you want to try out meditation for a bit, here's this little video I fell in love with! It'sIt's a mini-meditation that's less than two minutes. :
In addition, sometimes I experience panic attacks where it feels like I can't breathe or get better. When I've felt panicked and been alone, I've watched an ASMR video where someone tries to talk me through my panic attack:
Also, I recommend going to therapy! I think it's important to talk things through. Therapy can be expensive without insurance, but that's why I love MEND Seattle! MEND is a therapy collective that offers individual sessions for as low as $50 (sliding scale):
Information about Joy&theHood
I felt that I couldn't take anything good from the intense pain I had endured for so long. However, through my healing journey, I realized that it was possible for me to transform the pain I felt into power and peace. Holding space for what happened to me while understanding that I could take what I learned as a lesson to help me help others was important. I had to find the silver lining in all that I experienced to be happy. In that process, I decided to develop my own youth wellness collective called Joy&theHood.
I never had wellness practices accessible to me as a low-income teenager. I thought yoga, mindfulness/meditation, and eating healthy were for the wealthy. Therefore, our Peaec2theYouth mentorship program will have free yoga classes, meditation classes, art lessons, poetry classes, etc., to help youth establish their own wellness practices. I am passionate about bringing these life-changing skills to the youth because I believe they will bring joy and love into their lives.
Joy&theHood hopes to provide a safe space, tools, and mentorship to empower low-income youth. Feel free to apply to Joy&theHood's Peace2theYouth Mentorship program.
Read more and apply here: