One in four teens struggles with mental health issues. Project UROK, the “It Gets Better” for teen mental health, is here to help.
Launching as a lead-up to Mental Health Awareness Week (May 11-17), the site hosts first-person video accounts of OCD, depression, anxiety and suicidal feelings from young adults who’ve learned to live (and even thrive) with their conditions. Founded by CollegeHumor’s Jenny Jaffe, the project battles the stigma surrounding mental illnesses with humor and honesty.
“Comedy has the power to destigmatize like absolutely nothing else can, and few discussions carry the same stigma as that of mental illness,” Jaffe tells PEOPLE, noting that she struggled with OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and depression from a very young age. “I would tell myself, ‘You have to make it just through this day, just until the next episode of The Daily Show or Stella or SNL.'”
Project UROK’s VP is Sarah Hartshorne, a former America’s Next Top Model contestant who was diagnosed with ADHD in college and recently with PTSD. Hartshorne stresses the importance of making sure teens don’t feel isolated in their mental illnesses. “For me, feeling alone and isolated means feeling hopeless and helpless,” Hartshorne tells PEOPLE. “All the people who reached out to me after I released my video made me realize how not alone I was It felt like a weight had been lifted.”
One of the contributors to the site – on which anyone can upload a video – is former child star Mara Wilson, who now works as a writer and performer in N.Y.C.
“I was an anxious kid and I’m still kind of an anxious adult,” Wilson says in her video, citing her struggles with chronic anxiety, OCD and depression. “I wish someone had told me that it’s okay to be anxious – that you don’t have to fight it When you understand that anxiety is just a false alarm in your body, then you can work with it, then you can overcome it.”
Wilson, who hosts the monthly show, What Are You Afraid Of, tells PEOPLE that overcoming fear is one of the first steps – and a big part of UROK’s mission.
“Owning your fears, facing them and laughing at them, is getting control over them. It takes the power away from them,” she says. As for her OCD, she’s grateful that stars have spoken out about their fears and struggles with the disorder, which not only battles misconceptions and stereotypes, but empowers her personally.
“Now that I’m an adult and in a public position again, I feel like it’s my duty to use that to help others in the way I was helped,” she tells PEOPLE. “I think it’s great when celebrities and public figures like Lena Dunham and Maria Bamford talk about OCD. Every time someone tells me I helped them, I feel so heartened.”
Watch Wilson’s video here: