Amanda Higgins demonstrates age is no barrier when it comes to raising awareness about mental health
By Starr Cunningham
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help, ever.”
It’s a simple piece of advice, but one that truly resonates with 18-year-old Amanda Higgins. The first year Dalhousie student says asking for help can be the hardest, but smartest thing a young person can ever do.
Higgins’ struggle with mental illness started five years ago, when she was just 13-years-old. She lives with depression and anxiety. In the beginning, she described it as “losing herself for a while.” Higgins would fight through her bad days by focusing on school work, sports and student government, but it wasn’t easy. Panic attacks became regular occurrences for her. Her younger sister, Rachel, found it heartbreaking to sit by and watch. She wanted to offer help, but wasn’t sure what to do.
Higgins says just knowing Rachel was there made a difference, and she now openly shares this message with other young people.
“If a friend has told you about a way they’re feeling or about a mental health diagnosis, don’t be afraid to ask them questions,” Higgins says. “It’s important to better understand how they are feeling and to ask what you can do to be the best possible friend to them.”
What is perhaps so noteworthy about Higgins and her struggles, is her continued willingness to be there for others. As a former basketball player and coach, she worked diligently to create a safe space for her young teammates. She talked openly and honestly and encouraged others to do the same.
During Higgins’ graduating year at Halifax West High, she organized the school’s first Mental Health Awareness Conference. Thanks to her leadership, students attended workshops during the day, listened to guest speakers, and learned how to better understand mental illness. Other high schools have since reached out to her for help in organizing similar events.
Earlier this year, the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia was thrilled to honour Higgins at our annual Let’s Keep Talking Awards. She received our 2017 Outstanding Youth Award for inspiring other young people while facing her own challenges with mental illness.
Award recipients are selected through a province-wide nomination process. The event encourages open conversation among Nova Scotians regarding mental illness and addictions. In a heartfelt application submitted by her sister, Higgins’ achievements were easily evident. Rachel wrote: “She has done so much in the fight against stigma already and I am truly looking forward to seeing what she is able to do in the future around mental health awareness. She is one of the strongest women I know and I could not be more proud to be her sister.”
Today, Higgins is studying Kinesiology at Dalhousie and says she absolutely loves her psychology classes. In her free time she enjoys doing yoga, hanging out with friends and spending time in local coffee shops.
“Winning the Outstanding Youth Award meant a lot to me,” Higgins says. “It was a testament to where I was and how far I have come. It gave me a chance to celebrate that.”
Now, this outstanding young woman hopes her story will inspire other youth to become more engaged in their school communities and initiate important conversations. She and Rachel may still be students, but they can teach us all a timely and valuable lesson: Changing the way people think about mental illness and addictions is something we can all do, no matter what our age.
You can visit mentalhealthns.ca/lets-keep-talking to read more about Amanda Higgins and our other 2017 Let’s Keep Talking Award recipients. Next year’s Let’s Keep Talking event will be held during Mental Health Week on May 8 at the Spatz Theatre in Citadel High.