When Kami Baker was a sophomore in high school, a movie in Psychology class about childhood abandonment brought on panic attacks and she wasn't able able to eat for days. She was diagnosed with anxiety and found that although she was personally supported, many teenagers with mental illnesses do not get adequate or any support in school or at home.
"My friends were great allies in defeating the negativity and anxiety, but it always took explaining. It made me realize that, unless you're a professional or you've lived through mental illness, you don't have access to understanding what is truly going on," Kami said.
Now, at the age of 17, it became very clear to Kami that support from adults for teenagers with mental illness is surprisingly rare. And she knew that this needed to change.
So she changed it.
She created an organization called Joy is Genius (JIG), a campaign to help teenagers manage stress, mental illness, high school life and to get rid of the negative stigma surrounding mental illness in education and the world.
In her experience dealing with a negative stigma surrounding mental illnesses, Kami often received weird looks from her peers because anxiety is a very visible illness.
"It starts with feeling inherently guilty for disrupting someone's education or conversation.
It's the embarrassment of asking to leave the room or excusing myself from a situation. It's knowing, from the start, that you are not considered normal," Kami said, describing times when she she would feel misunderstood by peers and adults. "My goal in creating JIG is to show young people that they aren't alone and that they can defeat this stigma and the negativity surrounding them."
One of the biggest obstacles for eliminating the negative stigma surrounding mental illness is the lack of understanding the illnesses. People can understand how to help someone with a broken arm because we can see it. Mental illness isn't something that is always visible or something that can be permanently healed. Oftentimes, individuals do want to help, but they don't know how. Education is the first step of understanding and that's one of JIG's main goals.
On top of education, Kami wants teens to not just have a person to go to for support, but also a place, which is what she hopes JIG will become.
"I want people to reach out and say, 'CRAP YOU GUYS THIS IS SOMETHING I'VE NEEDED FOR SO LONG' and for people want to fight for this cause of being stronger and more aware human beings," Kami said.
Kami wants to make it clear to teenagers around the world that are struggling with mental illness that that illness does not negatively define who they are. She wants society and individuals to someday be able to think, "I have ______ (insert mental illness here) and that doesn't make me weak. That makes me strong. That makes me beautiful."