Mom & Daughter Pair Teens with Mentors to Support Mental Health

By Kelly Burch 07/17/18

"Through that process I found out there is a humungous community of people suffering here in my own backyard."

girl with mentor

Today Maddie Jenkins is a thriving 17-year-old, but three years ago she was struggling--the Virginia native attempted suicide twice within 18 months.

“When you’re suffering from something that could be the smallest bit of loneliness or stress and there’s seven other people in the house, you start to feel super unimportant,” Jenkins told NBC 4 Washington. “Eventually, I got to a point when I hit rock bottom and I couldn’t take much more. I felt like there was no purpose.”

Her mother, Danielle Renken, realized that not only did she need to help her daughter, but also encourage other families to have difficult conversations about mental health.

"Through that process I really found out there is a humongous community of people suffering here in my own backyard," Renken said

Their experience led Jenkins and Renken to start 12 Great Dates. The organization facilitates “dates” for teen girls and a trusted adult. Each date covers a different topic, ranging from bullying, social media, make-up and more. The events encourage teens and adults to come together to discuss tough topics. The hope is that this will help prevent mental health crises among teens.

Renken said that it is more than just a suicide prevention program: It’s also helping prevent self-harm and other symptoms of mental illness.

"There's a lot of attention right now on suicide, but there are thousands more struggling with self-harm, with isolation, with depression,” she said. “And sometimes those can lead to an attempt or a suicide, but sometimes they’re just left lonely right where they are.”

Jenkins and Renken also hope that by initiating conversations they can help chip away at the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Mental health is no different than diabetes or anything else,” Renken said. “You get them the support they need, you get them the help they need and you learn as much as you can to make sure you're three steps ahead of whatever is coming next.”

Jenkins knows firsthand that this can make all the difference for teens who are struggling.

“It’s just that, being like I said, to take the overwhelmance off your shoulders and just come and have a good time and feel like you're normal," she said.

By hosting dates, she is helping provide other teens with support that they can rely on when they need a bit of extra help.

"I think we're building, like, a little family, so that if you come in, you’re welcome,” Jenkins said. “Like, this is like, ‘Wipe your feet on the mat and come on in.’"

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.