By Amanda Chan,
Central York High School
The chapters of the National Alliance of Mental Illness scattered throughout York and Adams County regularly sponsor support groups for adults who suffer from mental illness. Central York High School senior Damian Gallagher, 18, however, founded a local support group for teenagers who have family members will mental illnesses. It’s sponsored by the York Chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness.
Modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, Teen Talk allows people ages 13 to 18 to confidentially share their experiences of dealing with a family member who suffers from mental illness. The support group meets from 7:30 to 9 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month at Lutheran Memorial Church. Teen Talk held its first meeting in May, and the group has met monthly since. Each meeting usually starts with introductions. Then, there is a discussion about advice for dealing with family members or sharing stories.
About 10 people attend each meeting. However, Gallagher would like more to join. He also hopes more NAMI chapters start Teen Talk. Now, the only other Teen Talk is in Wisconsin.
Teen Talk provides more than support.
“It’s more of an educational experience,” Gallagher said. “We educate ourselves on different types of mental illnesses, so anybody could come.”
Gallagher plans to invite college professors and psychiatrists to the meetings so the group can learn about the myriad of mental illnesses.
Executive Director of the local NAMI chapter Rose Alberghini advises Teen Talk. Alberghini said Gallagher’s family member contacted her with the idea to start a support group for teens. Alberghini liked it, and Gallagher agreed to organize the meetings.
“I look back on my childhood, and I know that I had nowhere to turn to. I talked to guidance counselors, but they really didn’t understand,” Gallagher said. “So where are these teens supposed to turn to?”
At 7 years old, Damian first noticed peculiar behavior with his family member, who later was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. One particular incident that affected Damian was a result of a trip to the Borders bookstore. His family member was babysitting him and a friend’s child. The friend’s child ruined a special planner with melted Hershey’s chocolate, but Gallagher was blamed. “She lashed out on me,” Gallagher said. “I was in so much trouble, but I didn’t even do anything wrong.”
Gallagher enjoys attending the meetings because the stories not only impact him — they can change the attitudes of other teens, too.
“It’s just so great seeing teenagers actually make a change in such a short time,” Gallagher said. “Then, they come back and want to help others, too.
“There was this one student who didn’t want to talk at all,” Gallagher said. “He didn’t even want to make eye contact or do an introduction.”
After about 30 minutes of Teen Talk conversation, the student was immersed in the discussion.
“He picked up his head and said ‘That’s exactly what I went through,’” Gallagher said. “By the end, he was one of the main contributors.”