Being Fearless

Dr. Fernandes is a mental health & wellness practitioner at Connecticut Psychiatric & Wellness Center and conducts research at the play2PREVENT Lab of Yale Center for Health & Learning Games. She specializes in developing and evaluating teen interventions, including video games, to promote healthy behaviors.

My father is fearless. As a child growing up on the streets of Portugal, he was creative in how to find food to feed himself. He raised himself and navigated the beaches of Estoril so well that he was given the title “King of the Beach.” He even taught himself how to play soccer – shoeless. My father is fearless. When he left the comforts of his childhood home to begin a new life in a foreign country as a teenager, he learned how to speak English and, even amidst struggles, graduated from high school. My father is fearless. When our family experienced financial difficulties, he reluctantly took a job that required him to work abroad in Angola, East Timor, Western Sahara, and later, Haiti. My father is fearless.

On January 12, 2010, Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake. My fearless father, an employee of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, was stationed in Port-au-Prince. The first six hours felt like an eternity as I waited by the phone to hear word from him or anyone, but this feeling was no comparison to the devastating stories of that day. Finally, I got the call: He survived.

My fearless father remained in Haiti to help locals find food and shelter, as well as assist with the evacuation of his colleagues from other countries. I could never describe the degree of devastation he experienced – it is in my father’s heavy eyes of sadness and voice filled with despair, that I know what happened in Haiti forever changed his life.

As a board-certified counselor, I knew my father would need support to navigate his emotions around this tragedy. And so, unbeknownst to him, I immediately contacted several therapists near his home. I called each one and asked specific questions – knowing my father’s personality and needs, and what I believed he would need from his therapist. I came across someone I trusted and immediately contacted my father: “Here is the address of someone who will help. Be there tomorrow at 2 PM.” He didn’t ask questions – he just agreed to go because he knew he needed help. My fearless father trusted me and knew that, in that moment, he needed support.

After my fearless father’s first session, he called me and said: “I can’t believe how much of a release it was to just talk.” It was in that moment that my fearless father experienced the work I do and why it is so meaningful. My fearless father reminded me of his fearlessness in this moment – fearlessness to do whatever it takes to survive.

With nearly one in five U.S. adults and an estimated 49.5% of adolescents affected by a mental illness, the time is now to demand early intervention as well as care and coverage to treat the prevalence appropriately. Estimates suggest that only half of those affected receive treatment. With suicide on the rise, the prevalence is too high to go unnoticed and affects our loved ones, including siblings, partners, friends, colleagues, and so many others. Mental illness does not discriminate against income, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or any other label.

Join me in taking one step every day to talk more about mental health and destigmatize seeking treatment. Below are some examples of what I intend to do. These are a few of many!

  • Reach out to your loved ones and connect with them. You never know who you may help through kindness!
  • Pledge to become a Mental Health First Aid’er: https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/take-a-course/find-a-course/
  • Educate yourself by joining your local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): https://www.nami.org/
  • Share your stories. Being vulnerable is a strength – by sharing your personal stories, we develop connections with one another and feel supported by our social networks. Opening up may help someone feel less alone.