Chloe participates in Here.Now., a program where teens share their struggles and break down the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

When Chloe was in eighth grade, she experienced a host of mental health struggles: ADHD, anxiety, depression, OCD, and panic disorder. For any young teen, challenges like these would be a lot to grapple with.

“I felt alone in a box, isolated,” Chloe said. “Before I was diagnosed and on medication, I didn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through. I felt weird and different.”

But since that time, Chloe, currently in tenth grade at a Westchester high school, has learned mental illness is more common than she had realized, and the stats back her up. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five teens live with a mental health condition, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens.

“That’s why it’s so important that people are starting to destigmatize and normalize mental illness,” Chloe said. “Stigma is dangerous. If people who are struggling only hear the stereotypes, they feel invalidated.”

And it’s why Chloe became active in Here.Now., a program UJA created in collaboration with our partners the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services and 70 Faces Media. Here.Now., which officially launched this fall, gives teens multiple outlets to connect with one another. Teens share their struggles and break down the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

The Here.Now. platform includes videos, Facebook posts, online articles, and a teen performance last November at Caroline’s, a comedy club. Chloe — who’s part of a teen improv group and writes her own comedy sketches — jumped at the chance to combine humor and work with mentors to perform a stand-up comedy routine about ADHD and social issues.

“My mentors helped me learn that mental illness is part of you, but it’s not all of you, which is what you hear about through stigma,” she said. “In my performance, I wanted to show that you can have struggles with mental illness and still be happy and find something you love to do. That you’re not a burden.”

Through Here.Now., Chloe has formed new friendships. “People are so accepting, we became friends because we were able to relate about so much we’re going through,” she said.

Chloe is passionate about the difference Here.Now has made in her life, but she knows many teens remain unaware that resources are available. “People with mental illness are hard on themselves,” she said. “It’s okay to ask for help. You’re not weak if you ask. You don’t have to do this alone.”

To find out more about Here.Now., follow it on Facebook and Twitter @ProjectHereNow, or contact Pam Schuller, program manager, at pschuller@jbfcs.org.