National Coming Out Day is a special kind of happy.

It's a celebration of walking in your own personal truth and deciding to be who you are without shame or fear. Don't get me wrong, the uncertainty is daunting, scary even. But coming out means jumping in and doing it anyway. And it feels good. Really good. Like your first deep breath after being underwater. It's a sweet relief.

Did I mention that it's a special kind of happy? Kevin Lloyd kissing his boyfriend in the 2015 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images.


To celebrate, many folks from the LGBTQ community are sharing their coming out stories and offering advice and encouragement to others waiting to take the leap.

Here are 11 stories that remind us all why coming out is an important act of bravery.

1. Coming out isn't easy, so María Isabel got some ink to remember what's important.

2. Braxton hasn't come out to his family as a trans man yet, so he leans on his friends for support.

Even though I may not have supportive family at all I'm so thankful for the supportive friends I have. The ones who learned my new name and never messed up once, the ones who always try to remember, and the ones who ask what I would like to be called. I've been out to my friends for 2 years and have received so much love. It's a living nightmare to be closeted to my family. To them I'm a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, a girl. It's hard hearing those words when you know you can't speak up and correct them. Its hard being told every time you buy clothes "Those are for boys, your not a boy" from someone who's supposed to love you unconditionally. It's hard living in a body that feels so foreign. It's hard having to constantly explain myself to people that aren't even willing to understand. But this is a fight that I know I'm not fighting alone. I have transgender friends and I have transgender idols that show that this fight is worth it. One day I will look more like the man I know I am and that day I will look back and congratulate myself for making it that far. I am Braxton and I am transgender. #NationalComingOutDay #ProudToBeTransgender #HeHim #FTM

A photo posted by B⚧ (@simply.bs) on

3. Lorena is a bisexual woman engaged to the love of her life. "I've never been happier," she says.

4. Thedarkerbrother quoted the late, great Nina Simone in his message. "I'll tell you what freedom to me is: no fear."

5. Visibility and coming out can be especially important for the people in the LGBTQ community who we don't hear as much about, like bisexuals, asexuals, or pansexuals.

Happy national coming out day. For those who don't know I'm pansexual. 🏳️‍🌈 #selfie #nationalcomingoutday

A photo posted by Angelica (@hells_lost_angel) on

6. Loving yourself as you are is a major key. Just ask Carly.

Thank you for helping me learn to love myself for exactly who I am ❤💛💚💙💜#nationalcomingoutday #proud

A photo posted by carlygersten (@carlygersten) on

7. This is Cody. Cody is gay. And when people feel invisible or unloved for who they are, a message as simple as that may change a life.

I'm Cody. And I'm gay. #NationalComingOutDay

A photo posted by @thebeardedfruit on

8. Cassidy's coming out was pretty smooth, but she knows that's not always the case. That's why she's standing with her community today.

9. "Dream big," said Jerrod. Adding, "Each of us has a story, an insight, and a gift to share with the world. Let yours be known."

BE YOU. Exceed expectations. Dream big. Overcome the limitations that you and others place on your life. You are too complex and multifaceted to let any one quality define your life or who you are. Reach back to others who are not as far along as you and push the boundaries of the ones ahead. Have compassion for the differences of others and encourage their expression for the betterment of us all. Use your voice and speak justice and truth into the consciousness of the world. Expand past the walls of your small worldview and embrace the great diversity of life. Each of us has a story, an insight, and a gift to share with the world. Let yours be known. And lastly love and love and love and love. You matter. You matter. You. Matter. #NationalComingOutDay

A photo posted by jerrodbarks (@jerrodbarks) on

10. Coming out has opened a world of new perspectives and adventure for Jesse, who's happy to live openly.

11. If you're not ready or able to come out, that's OK. Just take it from fitness phenom Shaun T.

CONGRATS TO THOSE WHO ARE CELEBRATING National Coming Out Day! Today is about more than coming out though! For some people it's not so easy so let's remember that for those who aren't ready just yet...ITS OK TO BE SCARED! Most of us were and you know what? When you're ready, you have a big family of people waiting to embrace you. STAY THE COURSE and Accept who you are first. The rest will follow suit. . Every story is different, I know, but I also know the freedom to be you is like no other freedom. LOVE YOURSELF! YOU MATTER and remember that YOU ARE AMAZING even if people tell you otherwise. So whether you're celebrating internally or externally today, CONGRATS for knowing who you are! Much love! ❤️️💜💙💚💛#nationalcomingoutday

A photo posted by Shaun T (@shauntfitness) on

Everyone has their own journey. And for your own well-being, personal safety, or economic welfare, it may not be the best time for you to come out right now. But know that we see you and we recognize your struggle. You are not alone. That's what National Coming Out Day is all about.

And if you are ready: Come out, come out, wherever you are. Whenever you're ready. Whenever you're able.

Celebrate with pride, courage, and enthusiasm. Because love is love is love. And it's pretty, freakin' awesome.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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