Saturday, Oct. 10, marks World Mental Health Day, an internationally celebrated event intended to raise awareness about mental health issues and the dangerous stigma that's often associated with them.
This year, World Mental Health Day holds special meaning for Carmela Wallace, whose son, the late up-and-coming rapper Juice WRLD (Jarad Higgins) used his own struggles with depression and anxiety as inspiration for his art.
Jarad died shortly after his 21st birthday in December 2019 from an accidental drug overdose. Now, his mom is working to ensure other young people who struggle with mental health issues — and their parents — know they're not alone and that there is hope.
That's why Carmela launched the nonprofit organization Live Free 999 in April, with a goal of supporting, "programs that provide preventative measures and positive avenues to address mental health challenges and substance dependency."
On Saturday, to mark World Mental Health Day, she unveiled a new website for Live Free 999, along with a moving open letter written in honor of her late son and other parents and children around the world who face similar challenges as those faced by Jarad.
Carmela's letter, published by Billboard, opens with some history about how intensely passionate he was about his music and how close she and her son were. From there, she reflects candidly on Jarad's desire to overcome his "demons."
"Jarad and I often had frank discussions about his struggles with addiction, anxiety and depression," Carmela recalls. "I think he felt comfortable being honest with me because I never judged him. I recognized that what Jarad was dealing with was a disease and I know he truly wanted to be free from the demons that tormented him. As a parent, I believed early on and supported Jarad having access to counseling. I encouraged him to always share his feelings."
She admits she was "overwhelmed by the outpouring of love" she found after Jarad's death, saying she knows, "his loving spirit which is communicated through his music has touched so many people."
"I launched Live Free 999 so that perhaps his death could mean something for other mothers whose sons and daughters are dealing with the same kinds of issues that my son struggled with," she writes.
"My message to the parents and children is simple. You do not have to suffer alone. You do not have to be ashamed of your mental health struggles. There is help. There is a way out. … If we can help even one Mother and their son or daughter through our work here, Jarad's death will have meaning and his positive, loving, creative spirit will endure."
As part of Live Free 999's goals of, "normalizing the conversation around [addiction, anxiety and depression]," and "supporting programs that help people find positive avenues to process their mental health challenges just like Jarad did with his music," Carmela announced on the Live Free 999 Instagram page Saturday that the organization has started working with, "young artists who donated their art and talent as well as provided testimonials with how they dealt with stress and anxiety."
She added that the group plans to "continue the conversation" by giving other "talented artists … a platform" through which they can contribute.
For more information and resources about addiction, the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP.
For free, immediate, personalized help with issues involving depression, anxiety and more, text the word HOME to 741741 for assistance from the Crisis Text Line.