We’ve Been There: An interactive FOCUS panel discussion

LEAD Pittsburgh and Jewish Family and Community Services were honored to host “We’ve Been There,” an interactive panel event featuring young professionals in the mental health realm.

Moderator: Jordan Corcoran, creator and host of Listen Lucy


  • Amanda Filipelli, author of Blue Roomsand Editor-In-Chief at One Idea Press
  • Danyelle Hooks, Recovery Specialist and Project Coordinator with Stand Together and Co-Chair of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance Young Adult Council
  • Evan Markowitz, Founder of Open Hearts For All


Stigma is often a “buzz word” in mental health, usually associated with a negative connotation.  People who may be struggling with mental health say that stigma is the top reason why they do not seek help, for the fear of feeling judged as different or even being called dangerous or crazy.  Lately, many social media and celebrity campaigns have come out to try to combat stigma, creating an open and honest dialogue.

 Family Dynamics

Any medical diagnosis can shake a family’s dynamics, including a mental illness.  One great point made during the panel directed at parents was: “You can’t pour from an empty cup” meaning that it is vital for parents to maintain their own mental health and set a good example in the face of a diagnosis for one or more of their children.  There is no single right way to display empathy, but reassuring your loved one that you care and being patient are the first steps.

Signs and Symptoms

There are many key signs to look out for when someone may be struggling with mental illness.  Because this is her area of expertise, Danyelle Hooks explained the acronym WHAPPas an easy reminder for five major red flags to watch out for in someone who may be struggling.

  • Withdrawal or isolation: People often do not engage with others when they are depressed.This can look like quitting their favorite activities or blowing off friends.
  • Hopelessness: Those struggling may voice a sense of hopelessness. Key phrases to listen for may be, “What’s the point?” or “None of this even matters anyways.”
  • Agitation or Anger: People who are struggling with a mental illness may experience extreme emotions, often with quick transition. The important part here is to not make them feel “crazy,” but do your best to keep the situation under control.
  • Poor Self-care: When you notice that someone consistently lacks a proper hygiene schedule, especially if this is different from their normal behavior, it may be time to GENTLY bring up your concern.
  • Personality changes: This is another one that can easily be brushed aside as a sign of puberty or growing up, but any extreme changes should be monitored.

*On their own, these symptoms may be considered a normal part of life, or just being an “angsty teen,” but displaying more or all of these attributes may be a signal to raise caution.  Further, the intensity of symptoms and how long symptoms have been a factor (i.e. two weeks or longer) may also signal a need for caution and action.

Suicide and Self-Harm

Suicide and self-harm are unfortunate coping mechanisms for people who are suffering from a mental illness.  People are left to wonder, “What could I have done to prevent this from happening?”  The answer to this question is showing that you care.  People who self-harm often feel that they are a failure or are not worthy of love or living, so a simple reminder that they are loved can go a long way. Do not be afraid to speak up.

Key Takeaways

At the end of the panel, Jordan asked the panel two questions: “What keeps you going?” “What do you like most about your life?”  All of the panelists agreed that their work in mental health and a sense of purpose is what motivates them.  They have all experienced hardships, and the possibility of alleviating such hardships from others is what pushes them to continue their work by fighting stigma and educating as many people as possible.