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Strange and Amazing

'If I leave, they're going to come get me. They're going to kill me. They want me dead."

"Do you at least want your curtains open?" I asked. "No," he said. "They'll be able to get to me."

This was the response of a patient I once met at the hospital where I volunteer each week; I'd gone to his room to suggest taking him for a walk around the floor. I thought that he would be glad to get some fresh air. His response, however, shocked me.

It was my first encounter with a severely depressed person, and I had thought that I would be able to talk to him and make him comfortable enough to go for a walk. I left the room disappointed, but I realized the severity of his situation. I told him to let me know if he needed anything.

Several of my cousins suffer from both autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When they visited several years ago, I went to Balboa Park with them and my aunt. We rode the trolley, and I held the kids' hands while they had outbursts that seemed to frustrate nearby passengers. When we got off, one of my cousins sat down in the middle of the street and refused to get up. I had to pull him toward the sidewalk while I struggled against his kicking, pushing, and harsh remarks. The outbursts were difficult to deal with, but there were also times when I felt as though I was really getting to know these members of my family that I rarely see.

My experiences with the mentally ill have been neither positive nor negative, but rather eye-opening. Some illnesses are based on physiological factors, whereas others may be caused by issues that surfaced during their upbringing. I try to live a healthy life, which is the most that I can do, considering the fact that my family does have some history of mental illness. The most important point regarding mental illness is understanding -- whether it involves patience or recognizing that someone's thought process may not match yours. -- Naomi Serling-Boyd, Mt. Carmel H.S.

Not long ago, I worked as a courtesy clerk at my local grocery store. A day did not pass when a mentally ill person would come in and encounter demeaning looks from customers. Customers would get out of the checkout line they were in just to avoid the mentally ill. They would skip an aisle to avoid saying, "excuse me." Whenever I bagged a mentally ill person's groceries, they did act differently than "normal" people: they would always say "thank you" and offer compliments and try to start a friendly conversation. The "normal" customers were rude and judgmental. The National Association on Mental Illnesses describes mental illnesses as "biologically based brain disorders." In the United States, up to 15 million people currently suffer from a mental illness. Anyone is susceptible, even you or me. If I become mentally ill, I wouldn't hope for an immediate cure; I'd hope that people would treat me with the respect I deserve because I would be different. I would be different, just like everybody else. -- Andres Perez, Valhalla H.S.

I heard all about him during water-polo season. He was the funniest kid on the team, always upbeat and always smiling. According to his teammates and coaches, he provided the most motivation for his water-polo team, even though he struggled twice as hard as his teammates. Having Down Syndrome didn't faze him, but only seemed to make him work harder to keep up with the rest of his team. After I volunteered to write an article about him for my school paper I found out how amazing he is. I learned through interviews how much he loved playing water polo and being a part of the team. He has more love for the sport than many of the top high school water-polo players. While most sports players dread hell week, he looked forward to it. The morning of the first hell-week practice, he came down early, already dressed and smiling. His mom grinned back and reminded him that his practice was still five hours away.

Every time I interviewed someone about him, talked to him, or watched his water-polo games, I was more inspired. I wasn't the only one; fans saw how hard he worked during the games. When the coach sub'ed someone in for him, the crowd cheered and gave him a standing ovation.

He has a likable personality one can learn from. His quiet optimism makes him someone people can't help but like. He plays from the heart and never gives up. Most of all, he is always himself. He doesn't care what other people think of him; with all the judging that high school students do, it is a relief to meet someone like him. -- Bryanna Schwartz, Westview H.S.

My first experience with a mentally ill person occurred at the age of seven. My family and I were attending a wedding reception when we came across a man named Ross. He adored me and I adored him. My parents took a picture of me sitting on his lap, and his smile suggested pure joy. His love for anyone that would accept him taught me to try to attain that same kind of love. Attending church has provided me with numerous opportunities to interact with mentally ill people. Every time I go to church, I walk up to a teenage girl in a wheelchair who flails her open arms in hope for a hug. Julie suffers from a disorder that affects her physically and mentally. One day I visited her at her house and we decided to color. She consistently dropped the crayons, and when I attempted to help her retrieve them, she refused my help. She maintained her patience and worked hard to grab the thin crayons. She eventually picked them up and put them on the table. She smiled. She displayed more patience and persistence than I could ever imagine myself using.

I once dated a guy from church, Brant, who has a mentally ill brother named Jake. The times I visited Brant at his house, I would always see Jake watching Disney movies and clapping his hands. I loved giving him a hug and talking to him about the movie. Brant mentioned to me that I was the only girl who would talk to his little brother. This surprised me...he was a loving boy.

Mentally ill people have the capability to love, care, and teach in a manner that's different and sometimes more meaningful than the majority of people in this world. -- Alexis Sebring, Carlsbad H.S. I have encountered several people with mental illnesses in recent years. There is a student at my high school who is autistic. He would always say hi to me and knew me by name. For the longest time I felt like the biggest jerk because I could never remember his name. He always had something positive to say, a compliment or a question. He always cared about what I was up to or how this or that was going; he made an effort to be my friend. I have learned that he has amazing musical talent. He has perfect pitch identification and plays the piano well. It is strange and amazing that some are given great talents and some form of mental handicap. Another autistic boy I know is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. He loves war history (current interest: World War II) and collects war-movie DVDs. I was privileged enough to spend a day with him, and we went to the park. He played on the equipment, laughing and even playing imaginary war. He is an innocent and free-spirited child, also with musical talent. According to his parents, he pulled out an electric piano from the closet and started to play "Joy to the World." His parents came to see what the noise was. When they asked him where he'd learned to play the piano, he said, "I taught myself." -- Derrick Sun, Mt. Carmel H.S.

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