Let's face it: We all face pain at some point in our lives.

[rebelmouse-image 19398114 dam="1" original_size="735x411" caption="Jada Pinkett Smith on Red Table Talk. Image via Red Table Talk/Facebook." expand=1]Jada Pinkett Smith on Red Table Talk. Image via Red Table Talk/Facebook.

Sometimes minuscule, sometimes excruciating, and sometimes all-encompassing, pain can throw us off course and redirect us to journeys we never expected. But according to a roundtable discussion on Red Table Talk with some pretty incredible women, that's exactly how it should be.


Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, her daughter, Willow Smith, and her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Jones, discussed their experiences with pain and loss. And it was downright inspiring.

[rebelmouse-image 19398115 dam="1" original_size="735x404" caption="Image via Red Table Talk/Facebook." expand=1]Image via Red Table Talk/Facebook.

The women got incredibly real, from discussions about grieving significant others to dealing with the death of a family member to using pain as a source of empowerment instead of a stopping point for chasing the inevitable joys of life.

Here are three gems from the incredibly moving discussion:  

1. Loss isn't always about losing something or someone else.

As an actress, producer, mother, and wife, Pinkett Smith's life gets pretty darn busy. She's grateful for the depth of her career and the wonderful opportunities she's had, but she is still human and still feels challenges, pain, and loss.

Pinkett Smith revealed that her greatest loss was the one person she needed most: herself.

She talked about the expectations placed on women — regardless of race, class, or career — and how those expectations can drain them. She went on to express her frustration and the somewhat oblivious questions she would receive that were supposed to define how well she was doing in life.  

"'Are your kids smiling? OK. Is your husband thriving? Good. Everybody else around you thriving? Then you're doing a good job, Jada!'" But alas, Pinkett Smith wasn't feeling that way. "One day I woke up, and I was withered," she said.

People owe it to themselves to give to themselves fully. If not, it's totally possible to lose yourself in the midst of all the directions you're pulled. Pinkett Smith's revelation is an all-too-real reminder of the importance of self-care.

Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images.

2. Honest conversations across generations can help everyone.  

Willow Smith discussed a dark period in her life that led to cutting, a form of self-harm. The other women were shocked to learn of this, and her grandmother remarked that things weren't like this for young girls back in her day. But Smith and her mom quickly rebuffed that claim. "It was definitely happening. It just wasn't coming to light," they said.

Just because you can't see people going through pain doesn't mean it didn't exist.

[rebelmouse-image 19398117 dam="1" original_size="735x413" caption="Image via Red Table Talk/Facebook." expand=1]Image via Red Table Talk/Facebook.

The conversation shows just how important talking among generations is. While times change, pain and self-harm practices are ageless facts of life. Having open, honest conversations across ages can illuminate some of these challenges and help people heal and learn from one another.    

3. Pain can be an opportunity for growth, renewed joy, and necessary change.  

Pinkett Smith spoke candidly about the death of her dear friend and former boyfriend, rap icon Tupac Shakur. He was murdered at just 25 years old, and with his death, Pinkett Smith had lost someone she'd expected to be in her life forever. "When I think about it, I still get really mad," Pinkett Smith said. "I get mad at God. I get mad at [Tupac]. I get mad at everybody."

In spite of the natural ebb and flow of healing from a loss of that magnitude, Pinkett Smith recognized that loss was a part of her path and that having someone in her life she felt that close to was an incredible experience in itself. "Amazingly enough, that loss actually brought me joy," Pinkett Smith said.  

Tragic experiences happen, and the effects they have can largely depend on your reaction to them.

Photo by Rochelle Brodin/Getty Images for Haute Living.

"I do believe that's part of why pain exists. ... That's part of why loss exists," Pinkett Smith said. "If we didn't experience pain, would we really grow? Would we really appreciate joy? Pain is a motivating factor to make a change in your life." This isn't to say you shouldn't acknowledge and feel your pain, but you deserve a good and full life.

The candid conversation among these amazing women gives a lot to think about. The key takeaway is that life's challenges shouldn't impede joy. People can use the lessons from pain and heartache to take life by the reins.

Watch the full Red Table Talk below:

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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