From St. Louis, Missouri to social media 17-year-old Kenidra Woods has made a name for herself by becoming a national teen self-harm activist.
When the Los Angeles Sentinel last spoke with Woods, she had taken her fight against mental illness to the screens in her first ever short film, “A Heart of Hope”. Now, the young teen is back to discuss the taboo topic of mental health on paper in her first book, “A Heart of Hope”.
“[The book] covers topics such as sexual abuse, self-harm, suicide, depression, and the effects it can have on [individuals],” said Woods.
“’A Heart of Hope” is a book about a girl whose life was in so much turmoil, where she experiences sexual abuse by two men she then trusted. Soon after keeping silent, depression, self-harm, self-doubts, and suicidal idealizations had taken over her. She stayed in psych wards most of her dark days. Her last suicide attempt had changed her life forever, for the better. Slowly but surely, she realized her hope had been restored. She, indeed, had a ‘heart of hope’.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), adult African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult Whites. Additionally, African Americans are less likely than Whites to die from suicide as teenagers. However, African Americans are more likely to attempt suicide than White teenagers.
In the Black community, the topic of mental health is often ignored. There is a stigma and judgment attached that prevents Blacks from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses or even discussing their symptoms.
“Research indicates that Black/African Americans believe that mild depression or anxiety would be considered ‘crazy’ in their social circles. Furthermore, many believe that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate even among family,” said MHA.
Given these statistics, Woods felt it was important to share her story with the world, to encourage other teenagers who are suffering from a mental illness in silence to seek help and to know that they are not “crazy,” nor are they alone.
“I feel that it is important to share this story with the world because people are ashamed to talk about these things. There’s so much stigma and these issues are much more prevalent than we can imagine. So, seeing something like this such as going through ‘darkness,’ shows that there’s still hope and that light is at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
While writing “Heart of Hope”, Woods has not only been able to encourage other teens to open up about their illness but also heal some of her own open wounds after years of self-harm and depression that stemmed from repeated sexual abuse.
The sexual abuse Woods experienced, went on for about two years. At the age of 12, she began punching herself, busting her lip, whipping herself with belts, sticking tacks in her skin, banging her head on objects and eventually she attempted suicide.
“This book has changed my life tremendously in such a powerful way. It has helped me heal by actually seeing visually everything I went through and to process it all at once was a huge pill to swallow but I was made for it. I got through it,” she said.
“Writing this book only showed my strength greatly because that’s what it took … strength. I want it to register with people that [mental illness] is real life thing and it happens so often. Don’t be afraid to speak out because these are the effects of keeping silent.”
Aside from advocating as a teen self-harm advocate, Woods spends her free time with her family and focusing on school, where she is finishing up her junior year in high school. After completing her senior year, she plans to move to Los Angeles and attend University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
A ‘Heart of Hope’ can be purchased on Amazon, and be sure to check out Wood’s blog, “CHEETAH Movement”, a blog site that Woods is considering changing into a non-profit to create a safe place for charity events and open conversation, as well as holding panels surrounding mental health, at www.cheetahmvmt.blogspot.com