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Virginia Mother and Daughter Help Teens With Mental Illness

After a Virginia teenager tried to commit suicide twice within 18 months, she and her mother are helping others with mental illness.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“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,” Maddie Jenkins said.

Now a confident 17-year-old, Maddie tried to commit suicide three years ago.

“Eventually, I got to a point when I hit rock bottom and I couldn’t take much more,” she said. “I felt like there was no purpose.”

She struggled with depression and mental health issues like many teenagers.

"Through that process I really found out there is a humungous community of people suffering here in my own backyard," said her mother, Danielle Renken.

She and Maddie created 12 Great Dates, a program that brings together 25 to 30 teens and their favorite adults for a date night. The girls and the adults talk about issues like selfies, navigating social media, beauty, self-confidence and body image.

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

Through the dates they hope to reach other teen girls before they go through a crisis.

They use the word “crisis,” not “suicide,” for a reason.

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

Danielle and Madeline believe talking in a judgement-free zone is the first step to getting rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Mental health is no different than diabetes or anything else,” Danielle 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."

Maddie knows providing someone with a friend or resource can make the difference between life and death.

“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.

Danielle said they’ve received a lot of community support from local businesses donating their time and event space.

Reported by Leon Harris, produced by Michelle Rivera and edited by Perkins Broussard.

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