In today’s digital age, where the pace of life can sometimes feel overwhelming, mental health challenges among young people are on the rise. As parents, educators, and community members, understanding these challenges becomes imperative. With the mission to shed light on this pressing issue, we had the honor to converse with Jason Reid, the founder of Tell My Story. Jason’s personal tragedy turned into a purposeful journey when he found a sticky note left by his late son that simply said “Tell My Story.” This poignant call to action drove him to create an organization dedicated to destigmatizing the conversation around mental health. In our in-depth discussion, Jason opens up about his motivations, the strategies employed by Tell My Story, and the broader vision for a future where young minds are supported and understood. Join me as we dive into this touching and vital conversation with Jason.
1. Can you tell us about the moment you decided to start Tell My Story, and what motivated you to move in this direction?
In 2018, I tragically lost my 14 year old son Ryan to suicide. As his father, I had never seen any of it coming; I didn’t even suspect that he was struggling with his mental health. So I searched for answers, and when I was going through his drawers I found two sticky notes. On one were his passwords and the other one said ‘Tell My Story’. That was when I decided to do just that: tell the story to help other kids and parents and families. That sticky note is also where the name of our organization comes from, and my motivation is to prevent other families from going through this unimaginable experience by destigmatizing the conversation around mental health.
2. Can you share some of the strategies that Tell My Story uses to promote mental health awareness among young people and their parents?
At Tell My Story, we use my TEDx Talks and Goldcast speeches, the films ‘Tell My Story’ and ‘What I Wish My Parents Knew’, by using storytelling and video to help parents understand how to own their kids’ mental health and the importance behind it.
The movie ‘What I Wish My Parents Knew’, which is showing in schools now, is part of a mental health program, and the only way to get access to the movie is by hosting an event and showing it in schools or in a location that’s accessible for your community. What we’re trying to do is use those mediums to better help parents understand the mental health of their kids. We tie that in with our creative group, The LA Hustle, and the ‘Songs For the Drive Home’ Album that we put together to help parents have those conversations around mental health with their kids.
3. Your movie, ‘What I Wish My Parents Knew’, has been described as starting a movement. Can you elaborate on its message and the response you’ve received so far?
‘What I Wish My Parents Knew’ is designed to help parents see what kids are really thinking and what they are going through. In the movie, I speak to many young people about mental health and the different struggles they are facing and I think what really grabs people about it is when they see the kids speaking so openly about their mental health struggles. They hear these feelings and experiences described by a kid and the parents are like “wow, that could be my child”, or “I’ve heard one of my kids, nephews or someone in my classroom or one of my kids’ friends speak that way and now I kinda understand it”. It is hard for parents to truly understand the mental health of their kids because they haven’t heard kids talk about it. We’re showing parents what mental health and the challenges look like from the kids’ perspectives and in their own words, and that’s what makes us unique and different.
The message is simple. The kids tell us “here’s what I’m going through and here’s what I wish you knew in order to help me”.
The most common response we receive from parents that have seen the movie, is that they now have a better understanding of their children’s mental health, and are able to have that conversation at home, which is why we do what we do. One group of parents also told us in the weeks after an event, that they now express their love and appreciation for their kids more openly to remind them of how loved they are and that they are enough, right where they are in this moment.
Golden Gate Survivor and Mental Health Advocate, Kevin Hines, commented that awareness is simply not enough. And that, ‘What I Wish My Parents Knew’ is a wake up call for parents and provides specific tools to take action for teen mental health.
4. How do you believe social media contributes to the rise in depression and anxiety among teenagers, and how does Tell My Story address this issue?
I think that social media is a double edged sword. It allows some kids to connect better with others and it has become their primary social contact with their friends and it’s not all bad. It can be very positive as they are connected with a bunch of different people from all over. They can stay in contact and up to date with their friend’s life from every part of the world. Where it gets harmful and can become a problem is when kids start comparing their lives to others by thinking that their friends have better lives than them. Social media makes it seem like everyone else’s lives are a constant stream of fun activities and beautiful places. And that’s just really not true.
So what we try to tell people, is that you’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle; you’re not going to stop social media. What we have to do is have a real conversation about social media and make kids and parents understand that what you see on social media is not necessarily always true, and that everyone has challenges you’re not aware of. The person that showcases a perfect life on social media might in reality be depressed and anxious and simply not show it on their stream. So no one should look at social media as the complete truth or reality. You have to accept that this is a fun picture or moment in time. That doesn’t mean their entire life is that way, and your life isn’t entirely that either. Everyone has good days and bad days and everyone only tends to show their good stuff on social media. We’re not saying social media is going away or needs to be shut down, we’re simply saying that you have to learn to be better about using and understanding it.
5. What are some of the most common signs of mental health struggles in teenagers that parents should be aware of?
I think a big indicator to look out for is abrupt change. Like, when kids start to withdraw, when they start spending more time in their room, when they start being grumpier, when their grades slip, when they stop wanting to hang out with their friends and when they stop paying attention to their hygiene, etc. Those are the signs you need to pay attention to. When they suddenly become different. And it’s one thing to say “well, they’re just teenagers and they’re going through normal teenage moods and change.” Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. And the reality is that you can’t take that chance now and believe that you have just a grumpy teenager without actually understanding what’s going on. Because, unfortunately, a lot of the time, those “grumpy teenagers” are severely depressed or anxious.
6. Can you talk about some of the resources and tools that you provide for free to support youth mental health?
My new favorite, free tool available is our music album “Songs for the Drive Home.” It’s specially designed to support conversations in the car when you’re driving with your kids. It is available on various platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and more. We are working on a second album for a Fall release. And if you go to TellMyStory.org, there’s a variety of resources there to help understand your own mental health and where you’re at. For example, the Mental Health Screening you can take. And we have many other resources on the website to help better understand teen mental health and these tools and resources are constantly being updated.
7. What role do schools play in your mission, and how do you engage with them to further mental health awareness?
We are engaging with schools to bring What I Wish My Parents Knew to parents through a program where parents can watch the film as well as participate in a group discussion with a mental health professional to learn more about their kids’ mental health. We focus on teen mental health as a whole, and not specifically on suicide, as we understand that mental health is something that affects 35-40% of all kids. So this is a mental health program, not a suicide awareness program. We don’t want to focus on simply spreading awareness; we go one step further and focus on taking action. With this in mind, we’re also working on a film that is specifically designed to be shown in classrooms. So, in our mission, the schools bring us to both, parents and teens, and we’re working on bringing them together in this conversation.
8. How can society at large support the mission of Tell My Story and contribute to the fight for youth mental health?
The biggest way to support the mission of Tell My Story is to just help us get seen by more people. We’re trying to get everybody to understand that there’s just not enough therapists, psychologists, doctors and mental health professionals and organizations out there to cover the need for help. And we have to own our kids’ mental health and we have to take it seriously in the way we take our kids’ physical health seriously. There are just not enough resources out there. And so, parents need to educate themselves, they need to be proactive, THEY need to be the ones to teach their kids about mental health. How can you help? By spreading the word about Tell My Story and by hosting or sponsoring a Tell My Story event in your community or somewhere in our nation.
9. Can you share some success stories or impactful moments that have happened since starting Tell My Story?
There’s not just one. With every event we host, we find ourselves experiencing numerous impactful moments. Every single time I have spoken to audiences, shown this movie or done something online, we consistently get feedback from parents. They share how the experience has led them to have conversations with their kids that they hadn’t even realized were necessary before. And that is what keeps us going, because, essentially, starting the mental health conversation between parents and kids and taking away the stigma is what we aim to do. After every event, without fail, at least one parent reaches out to me to tell me “Hey, I didn’t know I needed to have that conversation with my kids, but I went home and we talked.. and I am so glad we did”. It’s truly rewarding to witness these transformative interactions each time.
10. Looking towards the future, what are your plans for Tell My Story and how do you hope to expand its reach and impact?
Right now our goal is to get our program into 500 schools over the next twelve months. We are determined to make our film accessible to as many parents as possible, as we believe there is a lack of understanding regarding their importance role in their children’s mental health. To expand our impact, we intend to forge partnerships with schools and churches to amplify our outreach.
In the long term, we plan to continue to produce educational movies addressing various challenges and issues that our youth encounter. Through these efforts, we hope to create a world that is more supportive and nurturing for our kids. Together, we can make a lasting impact on the well-being of future generations.
Jason Reid Bio
Jason is a partner at CEO International, where he coaches CEOs on how to be successful. He co-founded National Services Group, which employs 2500 people across three brands nationwide. He is a leader, entrepreneur, and family man. Following the suicide of his 14-year-old son in 2018, Jason started the foundation TellMyStory.org, a nonprofit organization built to educate and empower parents by sharing the best and latest resources they need to identify and understand how to support their children’s mental health struggles. The foundation also helps generate awareness through powerful media projects that compels parents and kids to share their stories. Jason has shared his experience in two TEDx talks, the documentary films Tell My Story and Tell My Story’s other educational programs.
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