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Global Culture Series: Emily Torchiana

Mental Health. Is it an uncomfortable topic? If you answered yes, you’re certainly not alone. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 19 % of American adults (roughly 1 in 5), and almost 17 % of American children (1 in 6) experience some form of mental illness. That’s more than 17.53% of the landmass that Alaska contributes to the country.

Global Culture Series: Emily Torchiana
Abby Duran May 29, 2020

Mental Health. Is it an uncomfortable topic? If you answered yes, you're certainly not alone. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 19 % of American adults (roughly 1 in 5), and almost 17 % of American children (1 in 6) experience some form of mental illness. That's more than 17.53% of the landmass that Alaska contributes to the country. 

As the nation and the world are becoming increasingly aware emotionally, one woman boldly stepped out of her comfort zone to assists others. While a student, Emily Torchiana, found comfort in confiding with her school's counselor. Through her counselor's encouragement, she began revealing her past to the public through a series of public speaking events. Three years later, in her senior year, she formed The Invisible Illness, an online platform dedicated to people wanting to share their own stories and seek out helpful resources.

“I was blown away and humbled by the support of sharing my mental health journey at schools and conferences. I was inspired by the individuals who would come up to me after a talk to create something for others."

Modeled after Humans of New York, showcasing captivating photos of people followed by their stories, The Invisible Illness gives people a psychological relief platform to share their journey.

“I wanted to have a similar concept with mental health, specifically to reduce the stigma surrounding it. On a deeper level, we have more in common with strangers than we think. I hope this platform is therapeutic and helps those who may be silently struggling to know that they are not alone."

Torchiana's goal was simple: an expressive outlet and not the nonprofit it is today.

“I quickly realized that “invisible illness" is a term commonly used for chronic conditions. Although mental illness can fall into this category, people were searching for persistent physical illness resources on the website."

Since there was some negative attachment to the name Torchiana decided it was time to give her project a more hopeful image and sound. Lost Got Found has the right pitch and encompasses the current logo, a catchy yet minimal compass design.

Despite preparing for her senior exams, Torchiana was highly motivated to balance life and her newfound passion. She had a strong supportive team transforming the website into a 501(c)(3) and educating her on the ins and outs of future steps.

Lost Got Found now has ambassadors in high schools and colleges across the country. A significant contribution has been the educational ToolKit available for purchase.

“My goal with toolkits, and my talks, is to destigmatize mental health in a fun and interactive way. It can be an intimidating topic, but the kit educates students with hands-on activities. Like many students, I didn't know anything about mental awareness. So I've designed the packages to discuss topics and myths about this issue first. Then it tackles ways to cope and ask for help. My favorite activity is when the class writes something people wouldn't know about them, crumble it into a ball, and throw it into the middle of the room. Everyone picks one up and reads it. Because it's anonymous, no one knows who said it. This part is always inspiring because students become very open about their struggles. Overall, making it clear to students and kids that they can talk to someone if they are struggling is very important. It allows for a non-judgemental, safe space to discuss should they ever be in a situation."

In her 2017 TEDxCharleston video, Torchiana walked across the stage, holding up a mask stating that everyone wears one, including herself. She explained that the stigma around expressing emotions as weak is to blame for not addressing mental illness equally to a physical illness.

“Just like when we do not prioritize our physical health, we can see negative results. Society has been discussing mental health more, but as a whole, we need to educate ourselves and realize that it's not weak to ask for help. Unfortunately, men's mental health is more stigmatized, which is why suicide rates among males are higher."

75% of suicides within The U.S. are males of any race and sexual orientation. It's the tenth leading cause of death in America and second for those between ages 10 to 34. Torchiana is a firm believer in “deepening our relationships with people and asking how they are truly doing."

The misconceptions of suicide have led to it being a taboo topic overall. Torchiana believes in a direct approach in asking the well-being of others will help break this pattern. The more comfortable discussions society addresses head-on, the likely positive outcomes can be achieved among those confronting their thoughts.

“Often people walk on eggshells when someone they know attempts or takes their own life. It makes sense when they are unsure of how to bring this up in conversation if the individual is comfortable sharing. Given the pandemic, it is especially important to be willing to listen."

Social media has been an active role in connecting humanity in ways that were unthinkable even just ten years ago. With instant access to private lives and information overload, it has raised the question: Does social media have a negative or positive impact on those affected with mental conflicts?

“This is a tough question because I only saw the negative when being bullied in high school. It was such a toll that I wanted to do away with social media almost altogether. However, Lost Got Found would not have been possible without these programs. Depending on the content you are following, it can be a negative or positive experience. For example, if someone is depressed, they typically compare themselves to others, bringing themselves down. These actions are negatively impactful and add to their conflicts."

She recommends unfollowing accounts that are not inspirational and to take regular breaks from all media content. Moreover, she practices mental wellness through yoga, outdoor activities, and talking with a therapist. She's quick to note that healthy hobbies and passions are different for everyone but encourages everyone to try new things.

In addition to this consciousness, prioritizing her own mental and physical well-being before helping others is essential. A year ago, Torchiana stepped away from the project, following a traumatic event, to reflect on herself before moving forward. Now it has molded her mindset as she continues to open up publicly and propel forward with Lost Got Found.

“It has made me realize so many people of diverse backgrounds are struggling too. It comes with being human. It's a fresh feeling to have a deeper relationship with someone once sharing about my journey and then seeing them be comfortable to do the same. We can talk on a different level and support each other in a way we had not been able to prior. We may have had different experiences, but the underlying theme was that we came out and found hope."

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