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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 7/7/2008

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


Jen Wand's Story

To look at my life now, you'd never guess what was in my past. I graduated from Boston University with a grade point average of 3.8, lived in Japan for a year, and am now working with a public relations firm in the Nation's capital. But the truth is, I nearly didn't graduate from high school.

I was one of the smart kids. I attended high school in a Boston suburb known for its high SAT scores and college acceptance rates—and in that school, I was one of two students who scored high enough on the standardized tests to be named a National Merit Scholar. But things got rocky my junior year. I started skipping assignments, and my concentration was breaking down. School became a place of terror for me—where I was afraid to be seen, afraid to speak. Classmates and teachers alike frightened me.

During my senior year, I became unable to function. Major depressive disorder shut me down. I couldn't maintain my composure in classes, do my homework, or, eventually, even go to school on a regular basis. It's thanks to a certain guidance counselor that I graduated at all. He waived my missing PE credits and arranged for me to make up my missing English credits by meeting one-on-one with my English teacher twice weekly. Unfortunately, that teacher was not as understanding. He didn't understand why I couldn't just "bite the bullet" and write a paper for him on his schedule.

But my guidance counselor didn't give up on me. He told me that if we could find an alternative way to get me enough English credits, it would be worth it—that I was worth it. He arranged for me to participate in an externship with a local magazine. I went there for only four hours a week, but the school accepted it as an English credit, and I was able to graduate.

It took me 2 more years before I was ready to go to college. The few schools I'd managed to apply to during my illness were not very receptive to my unorthodox senior-year schedule and very few accepted me. But at that point in my life, I wouldn't have been able to succeed in college anyway. For the next 2 years, I worked part-time and went to therapy twice a week, slowly building up all the foundations I needed to live again.

When I finally felt ready to reapply to colleges, the National Merit Foundation informed me that the scholarship I was supposed to receive had "expired." I was very disappointed that my academic achievements were not as important as following someone else's expected plan for life. Would they have withheld the scholarship, I wondered, for a young person who had been kept from school by a more "high-profile" condition"

But my achievements in college were well worth the pains it took to get there. Thanks to the supportive people at my high school and the university that gave me a second chance, I had four wonderful years and was elected to the Golden Key and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies. I was president of a student organization and became fluent in Japanese—I even spent a year in Japan after my college graduation. And best of all, I am now a young woman who is extremely happy with her life.

Jen Wand

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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.