Three years ago, Delicia Raveenthrarajan could barely get out of bed. What started as inexplicable bouts of anxiety and sadness in middle school had grown progressively worse. By the age of 14, she was having panic attacks several times a day, but she told no one about them.
While Delicia grappled privately, she excelled publicly. From the time she was eight years old, she had volunteered with the WE Schools program. She spoke about her passion for girls’ education in classrooms and companies across North America, and honed her skills as an accomplished musician. She sang and played the piano, violin and cello, all while getting straight As in school. But for every day that she performed brilliantly, there would be several days when she was just … not okay.
“It was like two extremes and there was no middle ground,” she says.
Delicia was reluctant to share her challenges. Everyone around her seemed happy and she didn’t want to stand out. So, she threw herself into her work and tried to pretend that she was fine.
At 13, Delicia had organized a WE Day-style event for her community in Scarborough, Ontario, through which she raised $10,000 to build a school in Kenya. In 2015, a year later, she took a ME to WE Trip to visit the school, to see the impact she’d made.
Delicia met the students at Oleleshwa All Girls Secondary School and formed fast friendships. The girls shared stories about the challenges they’d overcome to attend school in the rural community that once lacked resources. Delicia realized none of them had done it alone. The students had found strength within themselves, but they’d also leaned on the people around them.
“[On that trip] my perspective really changed, to focus on what I valued. And I knew that my well-being was one of those things.”
Upon her return, Delicia opened up to her music teacher, Dr. Tony Leong, and told him about her struggles. With his encouragement, she talked with her parents, school staff and her friends about what she had been going through.
While her family and friends were supportive, she never imagined that asking for help would be a new fight.
After lengthy waitlists, Delicia would find herself meeting with under-resourced health care professionals who were often only looking for overt, even outdated notions of symptoms—low grades or poor social and communications skills. Since she displayed none of these things, Delicia’s concerns were usually dismissed.
“One of my doctors actually said: ‘Oh you don’t look suicidal, so you should be fine,’ and ended the appointment at that,” she remembers.
“In our system, you have to hit rock bottom before receiving help, which I don’t agree with. Why would you wait for it to get so bad?”
Delicia persisted, bolstered by her experience as a young activist.
“At WE, my voice has always been heard—as a young person, as a person of colour, as a woman. I knew if I was worthy of being listened to here, then I was worthy of being listened to outside as well.”
Delicia is now on a more positive lifelong journey to recovery. She has a doctor whom she sees regularly and focuses more on maintaining her well-being. She is also is a passionate advocate for mental health, penning articles about resilience for Teen Vogue and themighty.com.
“I took my anger and turned it into passion,” she says. “I started to advocate for change.”
For information on mental health resources and support in your community, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association.