For years, Areli Rosales has struggled with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder after she was sexually assaulted at age 11. Now 17, Rosales said she managed to keep the worst of her anxiety at bay by focusing on her schoolwork. That coping mechanism was stripped away last year when school officials closed campuses after the COVID-19 pandemic hit El Paso.
Rosales said she felt increasingly lonely and isolated. Like thousands of other El Pasoans, she has found it difficult to deal with mental health struggles caused or made worse by the abrupt changes in daily life.
So Rosales and her close friend and classmate Ariadna Perez, 17, took action and founded El Paso Teen Mental Health on Instagram as a space for other teens to share their stories. Also known as 915mentalhealth, the space features links to mental health resources and offers an invitation to join a weekly group meeting.
“I know a lot of teens are probably undergoing a lot of issues with their mental health, especially during COVID-19, so I just thought it was a good idea to kind of get more kids and provide support for them,” Rosales said.
Rosales never sought treatment for her mental health struggles before the pandemic.
“I always kept myself busy to kind of suppress it and not pay attention to it. Of course, when COVID-19 came, all I had was time to think and to feel everything,” she said.
She said she would stay in bed all day, and wouldn’t shower for weeks at a time or brush her teeth.
She said it took time for her parents to notice something was wrong. When they began searching for a therapist for their daughter last fall, Rosales had attempted suicide.
She has since started receiving treatment through the El Paso Behavioral Health System.
“While I was there, I got really inspired by the nurses and the techs because I’ve never experienced any treatment like that before,” Rosales said. “When I got out of it, it was kind of funny, like my light at the end of the tunnel.”
After Rosales’ first-hand experience, friends started reaching out and asking for her advice, she said.
One of those friends was Perez, who was struggling with her own feelings of isolation and depression after schools closed.
“It’s hard to keep a positive mindset when you’re just by yourself and it’s hard to visualize people being there for you when it’s over a screen so you don’t feel like you have as much support,” Perez said.
But Rosales and other friends helped each other navigate those challenges, she said.
The social media page was a way for the two friends to help more of their peers, she said.
“When we made the page, we just wanted to give that same support to everyone else, that we gave each other, so that people knew that they weren’t alone,” Perez said.
Perez and Rosales said they look at a variety of sources to develop their posts. They also have a podcast and offer a support call at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Since its launch in January, that page has garnered about 130 followers. That’s fine with Perez and Rosalales, who said they’re not measuring success based on the number of followers. They said if they reach even one teen they feel like they made a difference.
Rosales and Perez said they are still coping, but feel they have much more support through the community they created.
“A year ago, we were literally stuck in this little depression hole and then here we are with a mental health account helping other teens that are going through the same struggles that we did,” Rosales said. “I think definitely, we’re much better now. Now we know we’re not alone and we’re not the only teenagers that are undergoing these struggles.”
Reach out for help
Emergence Health Network COVID-19 Mental Health Support Hotline (915) 779-1800
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255
Cover photo: Ariadna Perez, left, and Areli Rosales are the founders of an Instagram account and podcast dedicated to helping teens manage their mental health. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)