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If you’ve ever had a loved one or friend who suffered from mental illness, you know that many times they suffer in silence to avoid the stigma. Not College Park resident and UCF freshman Andrew McCorey; he is committed to sharing his story in an effort to help teens and young adults who may be suffering like he has most of his life.
Growing up, McCorey remembers acting impulsively, getting angry and continually receiving demerits in school. A diagnosis of ADHD was made when he was 5, and therapy sessions started at 12. It was around that time he started having suicidal thoughts and major anxiety.
By the time he was 16, McCorey began noticing sudden changes in his moods. “I was going from extremely depressed, anxious, or angry one minute, to bouncing-off-the-walls happy the very next minute,” he said. “The scary thing was, nothing was causing it.”
McCorey kept how he was feeling to himself and hoped it would just go away. But then he started harming himself. “I would cut myself on my hands or chest as a way to try and make the pain of the anxiety go away,” he said.
In the fall of 2014, just after his 17th birthday, McCorey told his mom what was going on and asked for help.
After two hospitalizations in Richmond, Virgina, where he lived with his mom, McCorey’s parents decided to move him to Orlando to live with his dad and stepmother and to work with a psychiatrist they knew of. In January 2015, McCorey was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
McCorey credits the support of his loving, accepting family for giving him the strength to open up about his struggles so others might find help.
“That [support] allowed me to not be ashamed of my diagnosis, despite the stigma surrounding mental illness.” McCorey further explained: “I understood that to help people who, for example, don’t have as supportive parents, I needed to open up about it and share my story. The best thing to do to help people, and teens especially, to open up, is to show them that there are other people out there who are going through similar situations because when you are going through that and no one knows … you feel alone.”
McCorey wishes he had gone to his parents sooner, “It sucks having to tell your parents that you are feeling suicidal, but once you even just get it off your chest, it feels so much better and is the first step toward getting help.”
Oftentimes, family members may brush aside a teenager’s mood swings as teenage angst, but McCorey encourages them to try to really figure out what’s going on. “The biggest thing is to notice when your loved one starts becoming very reserved all the sudden, has severe mood swings, and/or is self-harming. Another thing for my parents personally was they noticed whenever I was over-engrossed with my texting on my phone, I was feeling really anxious with one of my friends or in a relationship,” he said.
If a friend or loved one expresses having suicidal thoughts, McCorey encourages you to tell someone, even if you are afraid. “They may not appreciate it at first, since it is something that is very personal and can feel embarrassing to share, but in the long-run will benefit them the most and could easily save their life. If you suspect someone may be struggling with a mental illness, don’t shame or disregard them as this is when you must be the most loving and caring.”
McCorey now lives a healthy, happy life and deals with his anxiety through different coping skills he’s learned through therapy. He acknowledged “the importance in seeing a therapist and psychiatrist on a regular basis, even when I am feeling really well. I stick to routines and I always take my medicine to ensure that chemically I am doing everything I can to stay healthy.”
His journey has brought with it a desire to help others, which is why he founded Crush the Summit, a nonprofit created to provide financial assistance to families with teens with mental illness, as well as information, tools and resources to help them stay healthy post-recovery.
“I found out that the number one reason people with a suspected mental illness do not seek help is because they know they will not be able to afford it. I became frustrated about this and felt like I should do whatever I can to help,” McCorey said.
The inspiration behind the name Crush the Summit came from McCorey’s understanding that teens who are struggling feel like they are at the bottom of their own mountains, and he wants to show them that they can reach their summits.
If you are having severe anxiety or suicidal thoughts, McCorey wants you to know you’re not alone. “Don’t be afraid to seek help. I promise that people will think you are strong for getting help rather than weak for not. Getting help is the definition of courage.”
To learn more about Crush the Summit, visit crushthesummit.org.