Heavy life stressors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dropped on the doorsteps of many individuals, is a prime reminder to embrace World Mental Health Day on October 10. Isolation, illness and death of family members and friends, and students learning virtually while many of their parents worked from home are just a few key issues connected to pandemic pressure. Amidst efforts to stay optimistic, an abstract authored by Mürşide Zengin, Emriye Hilal Yayan, and Elanur Vicnelioğlu found that children are facing “moderate or high levels of anxiety,” due to changes in their young lives.
Annapolis native and school counselor, Charles Phillips who has worked in the education field for a decade, has been shining an educational light on the mental health topic long before the pandemic unfolded. He says that he began penning his book, “Conquering Mountains” after he was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder in 2014. By 2020, Phillips felt confident enough to release his nonfiction story to the public, which recounts snippets of his life while integrating childhood trauma and rising above obstacles.
“When I started going to therapy and learned how much my childhood impacted me, I wanted to share my story to raise awareness of the effects of childhood trauma and the weights our students come into school with each day,” Phillips said. “I hope to inspire today’s young people to understand that they may not be able to control the obstacles they face, but they do control the outcome. My goal is to also encourage parents, guardians, and all stakeholders in a child’s life to open the door and start the conversation around mental health for their young people.”
Phillips says that individuals struggling with mental health concerns often suffer silently. They refuse to seek professional help, due to the fear of being shamed. These instances include circumstances when medication is needed. “But we do not tell the diabetic to not take insulin nor do we tell the cancer patient to not take chemo (chemotherapy). So why would we tell the individual struggling with anxiety, depression, etcetera not to take their medication?” Phillips said.
His supportive wife of nine years, Franchaze Phillips encouraged him to seek professional mental health help, and he did. Then, he began conquering emotional mountains. Phillips’ journey is a reminder that perceptive adults who work with youth in schools should exhibit patience and understanding, after transitioning back into in-person educational settings, following virtual learning. Additionally, the mental health advocate reminded that schools have family resources. “I encourage teachers to be vigilant in the classroom because they are spending the most time with our students during the school day and are usually the first to notice when a student’s demeanor has shifted,” Phillips said. “I would also encourage parents to engage in conversations with their children on the topic of mental health. Ask how they are impacted by the events that take place in their school.”
Domonique Hollins, who once played college basketball with Phillips at Andrews Presbyterian College said, he never knew his friend was battling obstacles, Phillips recounted in “Conquering Mountains.” Phillips’ story taught Hollins the importance of being nice to everyone. “He (Charles) helped me understand that some of the things I battle personally, others go through it and have gone through it to. I read this book in less than a week and I really enjoyed the poems,” Hollins said.
Phillips is now a father and husband who became a victor. Not only is he the first male in his family to graduate from college but he has also broken additional barriers. The overcomer earned a master’s degree in School Counseling, published a book, and became a homeowner. “I would like for my readers to know and understand that some mountains we face are unavoidable. There is no way to get around them. However, we do control the outcome. We control how we make it out of the obstacles we face, as well as the decision to conquer it,” Phillips said. “I get to be a demonstration that one can beat the odds. Statistically, I am not supposed to be in the position that I am in. However, I thank God that He has blessed me to show you can come from hardships and heartaches, but yet still thrive and reach great levels of success.” Phillips plans to donate a portion of his book’s proceeds to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Please visit: https://www.betheoutcome.org/to learn more about “Conquering Mountains.”