From recalling his anxiety attack in college to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Hempstead native and mental health speaker Hakeem Rahim detailed his struggles with mental illness and shared signs and symptoms to look for in those who may be suffering from similar issues.
Speaking at Hewlett High School on Jan. 9, Rahim, a graduate of Uniondale High School class of 1998, said he has been speaking on mental health in schools across the United States for roughly seven years. He first experienced psychological issues shortly after enrolling at Harvard University in 1998. “I was the first African-American valedictorian at Uniondale High which led me to attend Harvard,” he said. “I was at a party during my first semester and the room suddenly started spinning. I was having an anxiety attack.”
The mental health issues continued for Rahim during his time at Harvard. In 2000, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder; a disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. “I was sleeping two hours a night and began having maniac thoughts,” he said. “My parents proceeded to pick me up from Harvard and take me back to Hempstead.”
During the presentation, Rahim asked the audience of parents, students and administrators what they wanted to gain out from his presentation. Santhosh Chinnappala, a Hewlett resident and parent of a Hewlett High junior said it is important for parents to realize the expectations they place upon their children who are close to entering college. “As a parent, I would like to know how our expectations manifest on our kids,” he said. “In high school, we are there to support them. In college, it’s a whole different world.”
According to Rahim, signs and symptoms to look for with somebody dealing with mental illnesses include time and severity. “If you notice your child feeling down for two weeks or more, than it’s time to seek help,” he said. “One of the key things I’ve found out while speaking across the country is to emphasize to parents that you didn’t do anything wrong. There is no harm in your child receiving counseling.”
Mary Harrison, chairwoman of the high school’s guidance department, explained the importance of having open discussions about mental health. “We feel that having a positive state of mental health and self image is incredibly important for young people as they go through their journey of life,” she said. “We try to spotlight this in our school.”
Harrison believes that the student body is open about sharing their thoughts with school counselors. “I’m fortunate to work in a community where the students feel connected to our mental health providers and guidance counselors,” she said. “Our guidance office is a rotating door. Kids are constantly coming in and sharing their thoughts with us.”
Rahim reiterated that learning about mental health and illness is a work in progress. “We’re not going to solve everything in one presentation,” he said. “It’s about starting the conversation and taking this information with us. That’s the power of sharing.”