Last ‘State of Mind’ conference at Skyline this weekend | Art exhibit exploring mental illness stigma opens in Issaquah

It was March 19 and Kendall Campbell was standing in front of a small crowd gathered in Issaquah High School's small black box theater space. The University of British Columbia freshman was there to explain to roughly two dozen students and adults what, exactly, it's like to live with anxiety and depression.

It was March 19 and Kendall Campbell was standing in front of a small crowd gathered in Issaquah High School’s small black box theater space. The University of British Columbia freshman was there to explain to roughly two dozen students and adults what, exactly, it’s like to live with anxiety and depression.

“Right off the bat, a big part of anxiety is being nervous,” she said. “So I’m incredibly nervous right now. I don’t do this.”

But Campbell had agreed to share her story for three mental health conferences at the Issaquah School District’s three high schools. She would present again at Liberty High in the Renton Highlands April 2. She’ll present once more at Skyline High on April 23.

She told the audience how she had been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at age 14. Before then, Campbell had always been plagued by certain quirks of behavior, she said. She regularly had high expectations about others, or about upcoming ambiguous turns of events in her own life. When her expectations weren’t met, she would be let down even when the news was good.

She would become easily upset or otherwise affected by what other people said.

“Exactly one time, a woman told me that I had a ‘cheesy grin,'” she said. “… For seven years after that, I never smiled with my mouth open.”

Time and support from her family allowed Campbell to learn how to live a fulfilling life with her disorders. She lets people know about her anxiety as early as possible. She knows how much time she needs by herself, away from people. She uses to-do lists as tangible evidence of her daily accomplishments.

Campbell also uses art as a form of self-care — drawings, collage work and, more recently, filmmaking. She showed the audience a short movie, titled “My Beast,” about the symptoms of anxiety as she experiences them, from increasingly negative predictions to intense anxiety attacks and, finally, a nerve-wracking comedown. Good friends are useful in the last part of that process. But good friends are also hard to find when you’re anxious, Campbell said.

“It’s a tough thing to stick around for,” she said. “For the most part, I had to learn how to make my own fun, how to be my own friend and how to work on my art [to self-soothe.]”

Campbell is one of several breakout session speakers at the State of Mind conferences, organized by the Issaquah Schools Foundation’s Healthy Youth Initiative and the Issaquah Youth Advisory Board. The organizations have increasingly focused on teen mental health in recent years, but this was the first year they had organized a conference for teens to meet mental health advocates, professionals and success stories in person, board member and IHS senior Sophie Marts said.

The conferences are just one mental health initiative undertaken by the schools foundation this year. An art exhibit exploring the stigma against mental illness, “The Incredible Intensity of Just Being Human,” opens at Blakely Hall, Swedish Medical Center and artEAST Friday.

“We believe it is past time … to open our hearts to the crisis that is facing our youth, to talk openly about mental illness and begin to understand it,” foundation Director Robin Callahan said.

Elsewhere in Issaquah High School, therapist Katherine Jo Glaves led a mixed group of teens and adults through Campbell’s method of using art as a therapy tool.

“Sometimes when people make art they feel a lot of pressure,” Glaves said. Usually that instinct is based on the popular understanding of art as being for show. “Art therapy is different. It is very independent. … I help people find the means to make the art that works best for them.”

Glaves guided her group through several exercises, the first of which had them scribble with their eyes closed, then turn it into a picture with their eyes open. Then they drew a recent intense feeling. Then a goal.

“Sometimes when you’re a teen or becoming an adult, your identity gets all wrapped up and it’s hard to get it loose again,” Glaves said. “On the other hand, with little kids, it’s easy to make art.”

Other breakout sessions included seminars in stress self-care, eating disorders and the effect of drugs on the brain.Unique to the Issaquah State of Mind conference was training in LEARN suicide prevention from class of 2005 alumna Lauren Davis. Davis said, after a classmate fell victim to suicide in school, she became an advocate for suicide prevention at Issaquah High. But she found herself having suicidal thoughts even as she was telling her peers not to do it.

“And I don’t have a problem telling you that because I think it’s really important to talk about our own stories,” she said. “… Suicide is not about wanting to die. We’ve heard from many attempt survivors that they have changed their mind in the middle of the act. What happens is that suicidal thoughts are the brain’s response to pain.”

The Skyline State of Mind conference takes place from noon to 4:10 p.m. Saturday, April 23. Breakout sessions will include “In Our Own Voice: Living with mental illness” from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Developing Self-Confidence” from Serena McDonald of Sound Mental Health and “Tech Torment? The Impact of Technology on Mental Health,” from practitioner Jocelyn Skillman, with others.

Interested parties can register at