Kristina Rowshan is a fighter.
The psychologist, originally from Philadelphia, is a recent college graduate, a daughter, a sister, and a survivor. She did not battle cancer — she battled her own mind and even though she still contests her thoughts daily. Rowshan is New England Outreach Coordinator for Spanish-Speaking Communities with Minding Your Mind, a mental health education collaborative.
She spoke candidly about her mental health struggles to guests at Minding Your Mind, a program Whitman Hanson Regional High School on Jan. 30 hosted by school counselors and guidance department.
The Minding Your Mind was a free event for the families in surrounding communities.
“I felt that Kristina was an amazing presenter in sharing her story and made such good connections with the families in attendance. I would bring her back in a heartbeat,” said Kaitlyn Robichaud, an adjustment counselor at Whitman-Hanson within the Bridges for Reslilient Youth in Transition (BRYT) network and student support services.
She is also planning to have three major events for families to come and be able to learn something and gain support not just from the school but from each other.
For future information on guest speakers and family support programs upcoming calendar announcements are posted on W-H social media and the W-H school page.
Minding Your Mind offers self-empowerment to individuals who are taking control while working on their own treatment; connecting with others who need to hear and understand that there is hope. Her goal along with the organization is to encourage a reduction in the stigma around mental health and to increase the help seeking behaviors that often accompany improved coping skills.
Her recovery has been a long walk marked by small moments that have added up to great progress. While she continues to heal from her own self-destructive behavior, Rowshan proudly noted she is three years free of self-harming behavior.
Rowshan’s mind was obsessive as far back as grade school.
Paralyzed for hours about returning home, feeling completely unable to enter her house she would wait in the driveway until she felt at ease about going inside. Obsessive thoughts would set off crying spells with fears of her home or bedroom being dirty, contaminated, or imperfect followed by inability to repair or clean the area with the ruminating thoughts taking over.
She would not completely feel relief but would eventually be coaxed in the door by family members, she said.
Her attempts at receiving help appeared to backfire, as the adults in her life did not know how to provide help and silently denied her crisis until she attempted to take her own life.
Still, she said it was never her intention to die.
“I didn’t want to die, I told those around me,” she said.
She desired expressive actions that would allow others to see the kind of pain she was in. Her daily struggles against her own frame of mind — and her battle to live a normal day. She wanted to ease her pain ever though she could not always explain it.
A perfect straight-A student and a varsity sport athlete during her early teens she walked around school with ‘a cool kid smile’ concealing her mental anguish.
She received a compliment from a fellow student who gushed that she idolized her and wanted to be just like her. The complimentary comments crushed Rowshan, as she realized the personal façade was now shattered.
She attempted her first suicide that next day.
Her mask of cheer and joy soon gave way to unforgiving self-harm, cries for help that she said went unanswered for years and through several steps of her treatments.
To her surprise, as she starved herself to death, blacking out from fatigue and malnourishment she had a mental health practitioner congratulate her on her excessive weight loss rather than question the red flagged behaviors.
An eating disorder she knew was so severe yet her deprivation and weight loss were unachievable strives for perfection. She was in a vicious circle of self-harm, which she explained was a coping mechanism to gain control instead she attempted suicide again at age 20.
She was placed in a long-term clinic for eating disorders and her life slowly turned around as she had only loose connections with clinicians, patients and staff that soon gave her a realization of importance.
Sharing her ultimate achievement she recently graduated from college. Not an easy feat for someone who changed schools multiple times and continuously battles depression, anxiety and severe obsessive compulsive disorder.
Her treatment in working with Dr. Reid Wilson, a specialist and pioneer in the treatment of OCD, has been an enormous step in the right direction, Rowshan said.
Challenging her own thoughts, talking back to her OCD can be freeing, according to Rowshan. She laughed with the audience about some of her positive coping mechanisms such as hitting her pillows with a racket and yelling out loud that although seemed slightly twisted — for her, they have proved extremely helpful.
Within her family, genetics and personal beliefs, once stopped them from reaching out for assistance but they are finally able to seek support. The family continues to see a counselor and works on recovering together as well as creating healthy boundaries, and conversations.
“Everyone has a backpack in life and it is OK to ask if you need help carrying it,” she said, sharing her mother’s words of wisdom, as well as what she had learned herself. “I was meant to be on this earth and I am worthy of being happy, my life is important.”
This self-acceptance is a new language as she speaks to individuals about her recovery and renewed attitude on life.
Minding Your Mind Programs move away from crisis based response to prevention through education, according to their website.
“The mission of Minding Your Mind’s primary objective is to provide mental health education to adolescents, teens and young adults, their parents, teachers and school administrators. Our goal is to reduce the stigma and destructive behaviors often associated with mental health issues. Treatment is available, yet only three out of 10 individuals needing help actually seek help.
“Our educational programs provide information regarding signs and symptoms of these disorders, in addition to stressing that they are treatable and treatment is available. Mood disorders have been identified by the World Health Organization as the third leading cause of disability worldwide. Research studies have demonstrated that over 90% of people that die from suicide have one or more psychiatric disorders at the time of their death. The second leading cause of death of individuals between the ages of 14-23 is suicide. Since the age of onset of most psychiatric disorders is typically during adolescence, it is essential that the proper information be brought to the attention of secondary school educators, counselors, students and their parents.
Minding Your Mind offers several programs for students, teachers, faculty and the community at large,’ according to the website mindyourmind.org our programs aim to reduce stigma by promoting awareness about the prevalence of mental health disorders and the effectiveness of seeking help. The ultimate goal is to create a supportive environment in schools where students feel comfortable speaking up and asking for help.