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Photo of Marissa wearing a floral dress and backpack leaning against a cement wall in a sunny park.

A United Way-supported program helped Marissa open up about her mental health and improver her sense of self-worth

“I’m the best female athlete in my school and a good singer in our music program, so people kind of hold me up to this standard. It’s hard to tell but I have depression and anxiety. I have self-esteem issues and self-doubt about my body. I’m a bigger girl and people used to call me fat. I’ve been stereotyped because of the colour of my skin.

Things got to the point where I was suicidal. I hated myself a lot and I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to go to school. The groups that we had in my high school didn’t really focus on girls and what we go through or how we feel about ourselves. I just felt so alone—like if I opened up, nobody would have my back. I wanted to be with people who understood my challenges and could help me.

I ended up taking a month off school to take care of my mental health. After that, the school social worker suggested I go to a United Way-supported program focused on building self-esteem in girls. At first, I didn’t want to go. I was worried people were going to tell others about my mental health struggles. But when I started the program, I felt like it was a safe space. 

Being at the group helped me break down the walls I had put up. I am really outgoing, but I had never talked about what I was going through. During the first session, we just got to know each other. Some of the girls were shy, but because of my personality, I was able to make them comfortable. We talked about jobs, self-esteem, body positivity—pretty much everything. Knowing that other people were having similar experiences helped me open up about my mental health and self-esteem issues and improved my sense of self-worth. I realized that I can just be myself. I had never experienced that before. 

The program has made me feel empowered by showing me that women don’t have to look or act a certain way. Sharing my story about the discrimination I experience as a young, African-Canadian girl has inspired me to become a leader in my school—and my community. I want to help other kids see that they can do whatever they want and go wherever they want, regardless of race and gender. I was named valedictorian of my class this year, and I won the Principal’s Award. I’m amazed by how far I’ve come.

Being a part of the group has inspired me to think about what I want for myself in the future. I really want to help other girls like me feel more confident about themselves. I would love to help other girls come out of their shells and be their authentic selves, just like I did.”

United Way program participant

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