Local teen shares battle with mental illness, hopes to help others

When it comes to getting things done, 18-year-old Maria Martell is an all-star.

“I was involved in student government.”

From class president, to prom queen and athlete.

“I was involved in cross country all four years, and then track for two.”

Being involved, is an understatement.

“I volunteered at Gundersen and other groups.”

Overachiever, that’s how Maria would describe herself.

“Yeah, it was a lot to keep track of.”

Her determination to succeed, landed her a four-year scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where she’ll be majoring in biology.

But before we get to where she’s going, we have to understand where she’s been.

“I remember a lot of people coming up to me and being like you’re perfect or you know how do you keep it all together and you know inside it was like, I’m absolutely not, I would go home and cry myself to sleep at night because I was so tired and exhausted and I was never good enough for myself,” she said.

For each time Maria’s been in the spotlight, she’s equally been in the dark.

“That’s when I started to feel like something might have been wrong.”

A reality that being on top of everything, doesn’t mean you won’t hit rock bottom.

“You know, what is my other option? Well, not being here.”

Her junior year, Maria could no longer ignore her depression and anxiety.

“Just a particular night where I felt like my entire world was crashing down around me and in that moment I really thought I was going to die, I mean it was straight panic attacks for hours on end.”

This was a battle she knew she couldn’t fight on her own. She decided it was time to see a therapist.

“She is a godsend, I don’t know what I’d do without her,” Maria said about her therapist.

Gndersen Behavioral Health Therapist Emily Pfaff has been working with Maria for the last year.

She says Maria’s decision to get help is profound. She’s hoping it encourages other teens to do the same.

“It’s amazing that she was able to advocate for herself and to get the help that she needed, to fully be in a spot now with all the accomplishments that she’s had, to really fully enjoy those, it’s a pretty fantastic story for her,” Pfaff said.

Maria’s parents, like many parents, struggle with guilt.

“I feel bad, like I said I should have noticed it, you know,” her dad said.

“It’s one of those illnesses that you can’t give them a pill and they’re better in 7 to 10 days, she’ll always battle this her whole life,” her mom said.

But they play a big part in supporting and helping Maria through her battles with mental illness.

“You think it’s not going to happen to your child, you just don’t, you think it happens to people who are addicted or people who are homeless or that’s what a lot of people have been given the perception, and it’s not, she’s a classic type A overachiever and she tries so hard and it can even happen to kids like her,” her mom said.

“The people around me are so supportive that I know whatever anyone thinks, it’s not going to affect me because you know this is my story, this is my journey, I know what I’ve been through,” Maria said.

All-star, yes. But courageous is the most important title she carries today.

“Getting help is difficult but it’s one of the bravest things that you can do for yourself .”

Maria says one of her biggest reasons for sharing her story is to help get rid of some of the stigma surrounding mental health.

She says she sees it all around her, at school and at work, and she wants people to know that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to ask for help.