Michelle Vance wants the world to know that a stable home environment is the most critical requirement for a young person to succeed in school, find steady employment and have access to necessary health care. And it becomes even more important if that young person is struggling to gain control of a mental illness. Vance was one of five young adults to share their experiences with mental health troubles at Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on May 6 in Washington D.C.
Vance, 24, knows what it is like to have nowhere to call home. As a teenager, she spent six months couch-surfing, sleeping in her car and constantly worrying about where she would find her next meal. She was exhausted, stressed and bedraggled. People often asked her if she was abusing drugs. “It would have been more helpful,” she said, “if someone had asked if I had eaten or slept.”
Vance was fortunate to meet a mentor who found her a safe place to stay and helped her pave a new path, but not before she found herself in some scary situations. “Every night, I had to figure out where I was going to spend the night,” she said, adding that couch-surfing is not really free. “I had to bend some of my own values and beliefs to stay safe.”
Now, Vance is becoming a vocal advocate for other young people dealing with similar hardships, and she is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with other young people to hopefully enact change and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“The only person who will change my life is myself,” she said. “But the support of peers who want the best for me is incredibly helpful.”