Shining the Light on Youth Mental Health – Midtown Entrepreneur Eli Brown Shares His Story
I’m going to tell you a story of success and determination. A story of athletic superiority and of relentless work and dedication. It’s also a tale of denial and loneliness. It tells of a downward spiral that ended by hitting rock bottom on the Yonge-Davisville subway platform. But first, I’m going to share some statistics. Today, 1 in 3 youth suffer from some form of mental health issue. These issues range from stress to OCD to grim battles with depression, substance abuse and sexual abuse, which can lead to PTSD. Millennial Expert, Simon Sinek suggests our youth feel more isolated than ever before, regardless of “social” media. Sinek wants us to put down our devices and engage in real interaction. Eli Brown, Founder of Shine the Light On, agrees. Eli shared his agonizing story with me. It begins on the tennis court with him as a hard working player. His determination led to a scholarship at the University of Michigan and a spot on a top NCAA tennis team. Maintaining his grades and making it to the punishing 6 AM practices were the least of his worries though. It was his suppression of the memory of sexual abuse that traumatized him at age 14 that proved to be his greatest challenge. He spent what little free time he had binge drinking himself through his denial of the abuse. This behaviour was, and is, normalized for many young people and so Eli continued to dismiss the painful and confusing memory that tormented him. He simply lacked the tools necessary to express his despair. After first year university, Eli found himself extending his lies to his family, as he was unable to acknowledge the abuse. He believed his pain was unwarranted in light of his outward success. In retrospect he realizes he was simply uneducated about the symptoms of depression and alcoholism. He transferred to Western for second year. Without the pressures of maintaining scholarship grades and the physical rigours of tennis competitions, he was left with time to devolve further into his self-destructive behaviour. It wasn’t until over a year later, after his second suicide attempt, that he finally reached out. With his parents help, he found himself on a 67-day wilderness program in Utah. It was by sharing his story and hearing the stories of others that his future path was illuminated. Shine The Light On was born of a desire to subtly help create conversation. STLO t-shirts are designed to bring awareness to social issues impacting youth — and it goes beyond just cleverly-worded slogans. Eli has partnered with Mindfulness Without Borders to help educate high school and university students in social and emotional learning, and teach them how to have important dialogue and connect authentically. STLO donates a portion of all sales to mental health initiatives. With his t-shirts in more than 220 stores across Canada and online, change will happen! Affecting this change matters to Eli more than any monetary reward ever could. When his subtle message of support gives another person the courage to share their pain, he is creating the type of world he believes is well worth living in. I wondered, is it painful still? “I read the impact letters my parents sent to me at the wilderness program once a week. I need to be reminded how bad it was.” Although difficult, continuing to share his painful story is what Eli believes will help resolve this epidemic that is afflicting our youth.
Photo Credit: Andrew Fishman