Dying for Help: A stark look at teen mental health, Part V

Dying for Help: A stark look at teen mental health, Part V
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- For several months, Eyewitness News has been documenting the struggles of teenagers battling something that many people are afraid to talk about, yet it affects families in devastating ways: mental illness.

The intent of this five-part special series is to break the stigma associated with mental illness and to give a voice to those "dying for help."

Your teenage son or daughter can be perfectly fine, a straight-A student, a star athlete, then suddenly a change.

In fact, half of all life-time cases of mental illness begin by age fourteen.

Loneliness and despair can set in but there is help.

“I had a hard time before I was diagnosed talking about anything,” says 16-year-old Marley Ramirez.

Ramirez is part of a Tuesday night teen mental health support group called “Outspoken Young Minds” or “OSYM.” They range in age from 13 to 25. All have one thing in common: each suffers from a mental illness.

“We knew if we put together the right product, the right combination of support, education and advocacy, it was going to be a gold mine,” says OSYM founder Russ Sempell.

Sempell is a Bakersfield Marriage and Family therapist and creator of the one of kind support group.

“They don't even know if they can trust us. And then a few weeks later, they’re hugging us, they’re happy, they feel like they've found a solution to their woes, to their agony, to their pain,” says Sempell.

Their pain is shared.

“It feels like it's one thing after another constantly sucks, I hate it,” says OSYM participant and teenager Joey Rosania.

“You gotta learn to just cope with it and say to yourself, you know, that's just their opinion,” says group facilitator Steven Johnson.

Johnson was bipolar as a teen. He has struggled with mental illness, but has been able to relate with those younger on topics ranging from home life, to school, anger and depression.

I try to offer them a shoulder to cry on, to let them know, you're not alone in this. There's many others out there like you, and you're going to get through this,” says Johnson.

“If I have a bad day, they just tell me to step back, take a deep breath, think about what's going on,” says OSYM participant Calvin Noe.

But OSYM is two-fold. While the younger people meet in one room, just down the hall, their parents and other adults are holding their own counseling session. Parents swap stories, discuss medication, what to do for insurance and even share a laugh or two.

“A lot of them come here very hopeless at times and I see a lot of growth in the parents after they come and its very rewarding,” says adult group moderator Cathy Cornell.

So why do they come?

“There's other people out there with the same kind of problems as me, you know,” says Joey Rosania.

"I don't have to sit alone thinking that I'm worthless and don't have anybody, which I do,” says OSYM participant Kelsey Bloodworth.

"It makes you aware that there's so many people struggling, not knowing what to do, what the answers are to some of the questions that pop in your head as a parent,” says Kelsey’s father Todd Bloodworth.

"The fact that now I have a place to talk about what i need to talk about, it's a great feeling,’ says OSYM participant Marley Ramirez.

“Outspoken Young Minds” is trying to expand to other cities across the country.

The group has presented OSYM at several mental health related conferences, schools and churches.

OSYM meets every Tuesday night from six to seven-thirty at "Good Samaritan Hospital Southwest in Bakersfield.

That's 5201 White Lane.

The all volunteer-run peer and family support groups are free to attend.