WOODLAND (CBS13) — On Mental Health Action Day, we met a young Woodland man who turned his own pain into purpose as he's driving the conversation about mental health from awareness to action, not just here at home, but at the White House.
"I used to close my door and cry into my pillow because I didn't want anyone in my family to hear me," Juan Acosta said.
For Acosta, 25, grief and gratitude didn't always coexist.
"I started getting a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety — my stomach hurt, I didn't want to be in class — and that is when I began to struggle," he said. "But I didn't know where to go to or where to go for support."
As a young boy, the Woodland native suffered from depression, too. He was relentlessly bullied while carefully guarding a secret about his sexuality. By the seventh grade, he had thoughts of suicide.
"I wasn't out yet, and I didn't feel ready to come out, too," Acosta said. "So I repressed a lot of what I was going through in school.
But things changed when he found Woodland's family resource center which is now known as Empower Yolo.
"I started doing community service at age 13. I started owning my identity. I started owning my light," Acosta said. "And it was then that my life changed, and I was able to utilize my voice in whatever way I could to try and be a catalyst for change."
His transition to being a mental health advocate was successful because he sees himself in other young people, struggling.
"I think what we're lacking now is the lack of conversations — of proactive and intentional conversations — around mental health," Acosta said.
He is now driving those conversations on the national stage, co-authoring the New York Times bestseller "Channel Kindness" with Lady Gaga. And now. he's getting a front-row seat with the commander in chief in the first-ever Youth Mental Health Action Forum at the White House. Acosta was one of 30 activists selected by MTV to present a mental health campaign to the Biden-Harris administration.
"We are proposing a campaign that addresses intersectionality and that uplifts communities, who oftentimes face many barriers like LGBTQ youth who have not yet come out," he said. "We don't know who to go to."
But finding resources can be equally challenging.
"I'd recommend for them to look at other resources like a Warmline, which is a peer support service that is meant to offer someone to speak with a counselor who has been through some similar situations in the past, and they're able to get support 24/7," Acosta said.
That support is giving way to a new action plan rooted in kindness and compassion for an invisible condition Acosta says never has to define your life.
"What I want folks to hear, especially if they feel some shame and whoever they are, is to be yourself and to own your light and to continue pushing forward for what you believe in," he said.
Acosta is still in Washington, D.C., and says he's very confident the White House will put his mental health campaign into motion.
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