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'You feel less alone' | Virtual production offers personal stories of DMV teens and mental illness

During a special virtual production on Sunday, multiples teenagers from around the DMV shared stories dealing with mental illness and other personal challenges.

WASHINGTON — The deeply personal stories from teenagers were part of a special production titled "This Is My Brave" presented on Sunday for virtual viewers around the world.

All the teens a part of the performance came from schools around the DMV, including W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax.

During the 60-minute production on Sunday, teenagers shared stories of their experiences with anxiety, sexual assault, and mental illness.

Anastasia Vlasova shared an essay she wrote about the eating disorder she experienced in high school and the desire to be perfect.

Ilse Eskelsen spoke about the depression diagnosis she received and the anxiety she felt going out in public.

Payton Arnett offered a spoken word focusing on working to overcome tough times.

The production came during a pandemic that has overturned school years across the country and brought on even more stress for teenagers.

According to a survey with The Harris Poll done earlier this year by the National 4-H Council that included 1,500 students aged 13 to 19, seven in ten teenagers were found to be struggling with their mental health.

Their main advice: control what you can. WASHINGTON - With reports of anxiety and depression tripling during the pandemic, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health experts are providing advice to help yourself as we enter the colder months.

After beginning recruitment efforts in February for the show, executive director Jennifer Marshall told WUSA9 that the production offered an important avenue for teens to share their stories during a difficult time.

"We know that the power of storytelling is universal. When you tell your story, you feel less alone and it’s easier to seek support," she said. "These are things that our teens are dealing with and they need to be heard.“ 

While the subject matter dealt with heavy and emotional topics, Marshall said the sharing of the stories could help other teens experiencing similar challenges.

"The take-away from our shows is always that recovery is possible," she said. "In general, telling your story is a burden lifted off your shoulders. You feel less alone. You feel empowered."

"This Is My Brave" debuted in Arlington in May of 2014.

Since then, more than 800 local teenagers have shared their personal stories in 70 live productions across the United States and in Australia.

Moving forward, Marshall plans to keep letting teenagers share their experiences to help many others.

"The big message is don’t be afraid to reach out and know you’re not alone," she said.

To view the W.T. Woodson High School performance, you can click here.

Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) at any time of the day or chat online.

The Crisis Text Line also offers free support when you text 741741.

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