How 'Humans of New York' movement shows you're not alone

I remember, while in college, one of my journalism professors assigned her students to write a story based on interviews with strangers.

So I went to Great Lakes Crossing Mall in Auburn Hills and approached shoppers with the question, "How have you been affected by mental illness?"

This was one of the most nerve wracking things I have ever done. Yet nearly everyone I approached had something to say. They didn't know me, yet they sat with me and explained these heartbreaking stories. I remember one girl specifically, who worked at the Sanrio (Hello Kitty) store, who sat with me on a bench outside for about half an hour, talking about her sister's suicide.

This moment is what solidified my decision to become a reporter. It showed me that everyone has a story to tell — and I wanted to make it my job to tell more of these stories.

That's why I have become drawn to the "Humans of New York" movement — where intimate profiles are written of random people approached on the streets of the Big Apple. I love this idea of approaching strangers and asking them to share their stories.

"Humans of New York" was created by Brandon Stanton with the goal to photograph 10,000 people on the street — which he has since far exceeded. Standon admits that he suffered from depression while in college and said, by making himself socialize with others, it helped. He moved to a city where he knew no one, and while he was working on this project, that's when he felt less alone.

He said about the movement, "It constantly amazes me how brave these people are, and how much they choose to disclose."

Photo: HONY
"I've found that there's very little a person won't disclose. You know why I think that is? Because so much of our life revolves around small talk. Weather, finances, things like that. And here comes somebody on the street really digging at the marrow of your life and your experience. I think it's validating in a deep sort of way."

This project shows the power of human interaction and how people just want to be listened to. I think it has become so popular because these stories show people that they are not alone. There are people who feel the same way as we do and aren't afraid to share this information about themselves to a complete stranger.

Here are some of "Humans of New York" posts about mental illness, bullying, suicide and self acceptance:

• “I had a rough time in high school. I was in a very deep depression. I’ve always been on the heavy side, so I got bullied a lot because of my size. I didn’t have any friends. There wasn’t a male figure in my life to talk to. Some people cared about me, but I blocked them out of my life. Someone told the school guidance counselor that they'd heard me talking about suicide, so I got sent to the psych hospital for nine days. I was the oldest one there. I met kids who were a lot younger than me, and who’d been through a lot worse things. One of the girls had been raped. The younger kids would come to me for advice, and for the first time I felt like a leader. I left the hospital with a different mindset. I realized that I wasn’t on earth to be helped, but to help others.”

Photo: HONY
• "I struggled with body image my whole life. As a young teen, I was diagnosed with Polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS makes it incredibly hard to lose weight, and spikes up your insulin levels which can lead to diabetes and other complications. ... I realized that my size or weight is not something to be ashamed of, it is a part of me. Health and weight are not synonymous, and I know that to be healthy means to manage my sobriety and PCOS the best that I can. I may not ever be thin, but that’s okay. It’s all about progress, not perfection. So I posted a picture of myself in my underwear with a message to all the people who’d ever bullied me about what I looked like. Amazingly, in less than a week, it got over 50,000 likes and reblogs. ... My dream is to go back to my middle school, where all my body im
age issues began, and work with young girls on the issues of self-esteem, body image, sizeism, and bullying. I want to give these girls something I never knew, which was that your body does not define who you are as a person. To people who judge people on their size, weight, pants size or health - shame on you. No one is the authority on beauty, and everyone has a different road to trudge to happy destiny."

• "I'm a therapist and a social worker. I specialize in trauma-informed care."
"What frustrates you most about your work?"
"Probably the stigma that society attaches to mental illness. Neurobiological diseases are often viewed as a step below physiological diseases, like diabetes. The stigma can be very harmful to patients."

• "After my best friend committed suicide, I spent a year answering phones at a suicide prevention hotline. I worked the midnight to 4 AM shift."
"Why did your friend commit suicide?"
"I think like most people who take their own lives, he was just feeling very isolated. He'd just come back from college, was living with his parents, and was in a very bad place. I've always felt guilty about my last words to him. I visited him at his parents' house, and as I was leaving, I told him: 'This is a bad situation. You've got to get out of here.'"

Photo: HONY
"I wish I'd been more compassionate toward my mother."
"In what way?"
"My father committed suicide when I was nine. I wish I'd understood and accepted my mother's depression, instead of reacting against it."

• "I'm always sad."
"Are there certain thoughts associated with the sadness?"
"No, the sadness is under the thoughts. It's like when you're on a camping trip, and it's really cold, and you put on extra socks, and an extra sweater, but you still can't get warm, because the coldness is in your bones."
"Do you hope to get away from it?"
"Not anymore. I just hope to come to peace with it."

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