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Summer vs. Depression

By Kirsty Freeman

I’d like to warn you that I will be writing about my personal experience with a summer camp agency and depression and want to warn you that themes of depression and mental health will be discussed.

As a British child who grew up with the likes of the Parent Trap and Camp Rock, summer camp in America always looked like the best thing on Earth. Correct me if I’m wrong but two months without parents and being surrounded by nature sounds like pure bliss. In less than a week I’ll be 18, and I’m heading into my last summer at school. University beckons and the one thing that remains on my checklist before trying to at least claim that I’ve done a bit of everything is to go to a summer camp.

I did a load of internet research and tried to become as well versed in everything camp counsellor related as possible, not to toot my own horn, but I have a pretty well rounded CV. I have a tonne of experience, four impeccable recommendations, a massive smile and enough enthusiasm and passion to build a hundred cities. So it surprised me a little that one of the oldest and apparently ‘most experienced’ agencies rejected me.

I was rejected in terms of not being deemed ‘medically suitable’ by them, and this was because of my experiences with depression. I chose to be forthright when I applied about my mental health, I have had two recent experiences with clinical depression, one resulting in self harm scars the other resulting in lasting therapy. I’m happy to write that I’m in a much better place now, but being rejected over email – one which emphasised that I would struggle given my recent history without even having met me – felt extremely unfair.

I’m good at making kids happy, I’m good at what I do, and spending my summer doing just that is a total dream. Mental health is not something which restricts an individual’s ability to hold responsibility, mental health is a blanket term, but it does not mean that it should be applied to each individual as such. Everyone has their own story with mental health and so to read someone’s form, without getting to know their story, and to make a decision on their capability and their progress, is disappointingly disregarding the strength of those who have been through any sort of journey with mental health.

I applied directly to another camp, and they asked me similar questions on my health form. When I informed the camp directly of my issues in recent years they asked to interview me to assess my position with my mental health. I was told that because I was forthright, because of my experience and because of my passion and clear signs of strength that my past would not be an issue.

My past does not define me, though it does make me stronger, and this is something I implore others to remember and take from this article. To be brave enough to write about your struggles with mental health is incredible enough, the way my mental health was treated by the agency was shocking and upsetting, especially today when there is supposed to be greater understanding about mental health, and when companies can be held liable for discrimination over such matters.

The saddest thing is, is that I believe I am a good role model for young people who struggle with mental health. I want to inspire people that there is a future, and even when it looks bleak (because trust me I’ve been there) that there is a chance of sunshine and tomorrow. I want to be open about my experiences with depression, and my scars of my self harm. I don’t want to be made to feel ashamed of it or to feel the need to hide it because it might limit my future. It certainly doesn’t, and it certainly won’t limit mine.

I truly believe that the agency should rethink their policy, and at least give people with histories of mental health a chance to be heard. I mean, it's almost 2022!

Written by writer Kirsty Freeman

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