When the bullying got unbearable, a teenager reached out for help and found a lifeline in Kent
Anxiety and depression kept Nicole Keys from going to public and crowded places, like the grocery store, when she was in high school.
For a while, Keys said she never wanted to go out. Her anxiety and depression started when she was a child, she said, when she was verbally assaulted by a parent.
The anxiety escalated when Keys began being bullied in college, the result of a friendship that deteriorated and turned toxic, she said. When she entered high school, the harassment became unbearable.
“I knew how bad I was and I knew I needed to find help, anyway, to deal with the anxiety,” Keys said. “I was very much in denial about going for a consultation. I was stereotyping this.
Fast forward two years, and now she works in a grocery store, “a place I feared,” the 18-year-old said. “I couldn’t go in without having a panic attack. Honestly, it’s amazing.
The turnaround came after Keys signed up to see a therapist at Kent Youth and Family Services, a nonprofit focused on the healthy development of youth and families in South King County. The organization, which has been in existence for more than 50 years, offers advisory, education and support services, and is one of 13 nonprofits that benefit from donations from readers to the Seattle Times Fund for Those In the need.
The majority of the agency’s clients are people of color and low-income families, according to its 2019 annual report. Six programs are offered: after-school program; Behavioral health; The Watson Manor Transitional Living Program; Early learning program; case management program for commercially sexually exploited children; and awareness program for LGBTQ + youth.
One of the most popular programs is Early Learning, which served nearly 900 children during the 2018-19 school year. Almost half of these preschoolers were either non-English speaking or had limited English proficiency.
Hizbulla Abrahimy helps translate for other Afghan families participating in Kent’s Youth and Family Services programs. Abrahimy, who arrived in the United States in 2014 from Afghanistan with his family after serving as a translator for the United States Army, also has a 4-year-old son in the Early Learning Program.
“He socializes with other kids and that’s what we want, for our kids to be socialized in the community with other kids and other classmates,” Abrahimy said. “We noticed a lot of good things about him while he was in these classes.”
Abrahimy said Kent Youth and Family Services gave him a computer as well, so he no longer needs to go to the library.
The association also works with entire families and provides parenting support and resources, said Brenda Rogers, director of mental health services. The organization tried to reach more people and expand its art and therapy program.
“It can be really therapeutic to let certain emotions and experiences slip away and release some of the stress that they are [clients] carry it in their bodies so they can get better and work their anger through the arts, ”Rogers said.
One of the most prominent programs is the agency’s Behavioral Health program, which includes youth mental health and addiction services, said Lily Stellmon, director of fund development and community relations. The program serves approximately 500 clients per year.
Keys has made huge improvements and is an example of possible life changes, said her counselor, Kim Steedle, who is a youth and family therapist at Kent Youth and Family Services. “I think she believed in the process and that change is possible and got to work.”
Even before the pandemic began and schools were forced to turn to distance learning, Keys said her bullying and anxiety was so severe that she started taking classes at an online school. Keys was about to be kicked out because she missed so many days, she said.
Keys said she didn’t want to be in the crowd and would worry about what people would think when she walked by. At worst, she lacked motivation, barely ate, had suicidal thoughts and was not taking care of herself.
“When I walked into a grocery store, I felt like I was entering high school… I saw everything in a negative light. I would think about going to school where people would spread rumors and laugh at me when I walk in.
Bullying affects students across the country, Steedle said. Even those who haven’t been personally affected may know someone who has been, especially in the age of social media.
“It (being bullied) lowers your self-esteem, but it really takes away your sense of power and agency and people start to feel powerless over time,” Steedle said. “A lot of kids report bullying, unfortunately. “
It’s common for anxiety and depression to stem from bullying, Steedle added.
One in five high school students in the country have been bullied at school, according to a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bullying is also one of the most common discipline problems reported in public schools and “increases the risk of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, poor academic performance and dropping out” among those who do. are the target of abuse.
Through online courses, Keys was able to graduate in the spring. But dealing with her anxiety and depression is an ongoing process, and she has had to block attempts to contact her bullies.
“Healing takes time and you just have to do what you’re doing with open arms and open eyes and you’ll get there,” Keys said.
“I’m definitely happier than I was and that’s a great thing, but I could definitely be happier,” Keys said.
Keys said she hopes sharing her story will encourage others to seek help when struggling with anxiety and depression.