"My goal is to help people feel comfortable and open to sharing their experiences, but also to know that it's healable," said Cherrial Odell.
Trigger warning: The following article mentions suicide, depression, and addiction, which may be distressing to some readers.
There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Cherrial Odell was only 13 years old when she first tried to take her own life. Now, at 22, she is helping others take charge of their mental health. Odell told PEOPLE, "I grew up in a chaotic home environment in Las Vegas, where both of my parents struggled with addiction and their own mental health." She added, "I had depression and anxiety and didn't have guidance on how to deal with all the emotions that came with that."
One night with her friends, she took a couple of pills prescribed to her for migraines to end her life. Odell said, "I was young, and just assumed you take a bunch of pills, you fall asleep and you don't wake up." But she did. "I woke up thinking, 'Why am I still here?' And I was sad that it didn't work," she added.
She made a second attempt, a few months later. It landed her in the hospital, where her parents were told she wouldn't make it through the night. "I was in respiratory failure," Odell said. "They told my parents to call a priest." But she survived.
Finally, she enrolled in a program at Inspiring Children Foundation, a nonprofit co-founded by singer Jewel dedicated to transforming the lives of at-risk youth in Las Vegas through a whole human approach to physical, emotional, and mental health. Odell told PEOPLE, "Jewel and Ryan [Wolfington], the co-founders of the program, became really close personal mentors of mine and introduced me to mindfulness and meditation and all kinds of different wellness practices."
She added, "They gave me a safe environment where I could go to really invest in my own healing and growth and learn how to deal with my emotions and my relationships with my family and myself."
Odell started using practical tools to take care of her mental health. She explained, "Just realizing, 'Okay, I have all these thoughts and feelings, and sometimes they feel really strong and overwhelming or upsetting or really dark', but I'm separate from my thoughts and feelings."
"And something that Jewel says — and I really like the way she words it — is, 'If I can observe my thoughts and feelings, I must be something other than those feelings.' I can't necessarily choose whether these negative thoughts and feelings come to me — that might be out of my control — but I can choose how I respond to them," she added.
Through her program at the Inspiring Children Foundation, Odell learned to take care of mental health holistically. She said, "I think mindfulness, meditation, journaling, yoga, sleeping well, eating nutritiously, all these seemingly small things have such a huge impact on how I feel, and my clarity and ability to create space for my thoughts and feelings."
Odell was accepted to Stanford University, where she has helped in transforming the curriculum she learned from the foundation into a college club called Wellness Buddies. She said, "There was really no safety net for someone like me. And so I had to set about putting together skills and tools on my own that took me a lifetime to learn. And I wanted to see if these tools could work for other kids that were like me that didn't have access."
"My goal is to help people feel comfortable and open to sharing their experiences, but also to know that it's healable and that you can find happiness," Odell said. "There's all these tools and resources and things that can help you heal. It's not a death sentence."
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