North KC teen starts awareness week at school to start conversations about mental health without the stigma

NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ellie Klopfenstein is the face behind the organization Stop the Stigma.

The 16-year-old is open about her struggles with depression, anxiety and suicide -- and she's using her voice to raise awareness in the community.

Klopfenstein said the summer of her freshman year, it hit her all at once.

"Depression and anxiety, definitely, and I did deal with some suicidal thoughts," she said.

The North Kansas City High School junior 16-year-old admits she struggles from the effects of mental illness -- like not wanting to engage in conversations or hang out with her friends.

The self-proclaimed perfectionist said the pressure is self-inflicted -- a desire to be perfect in every way.

Klopfenstein has a 4.0 GPA and is also a top-ranked gymnast. She's a 10, the highest junior Olympic level. From there, she can advance to the elite level -- an Olympic class rank.

But even with all that success, she said the struggle is real.

"I still to this day deal with it," Klopfenstein said.

After attending a leadership conference her sophomore year, Klopfenstein and a former classmate came up with an idea to start a campaign to talk about mental health issues.

"It's OK if you struggle with this because everyone does," she said.

She wanted to start a transparent dialogue -- without the stigma. So with the help of her mentors and school officials, she got the green light to host a mental health awareness week.

"Each day of the week we dedicate it to a certain mental illness," she said.

Anxiety, suicide prevention, eating disorders, sexual assault and depression are the featured topics this year.

"With each day, we have informational or personal videos that we'll send out to teachers to show to their class during our advisories," she said.

Social studies teacher Patrick O'Keefe says he's proud of Klopfenstein's determination.

"Ellie is a very driven, very motivated young woman who is just bound and determined to make an impact not only for herself but for her friends, her family," he said.

Klopfenstein said the response over the last two years has been exceptional -- and that's why she continues to reach for excellence.

"It's amazing having individuals come up to me and say I've helped them," she said. "It's just an amazing feeling."

Klopfenstein said she wants to go to Ohio State after graduation to pursue a career as a sports medicine doctor.

Suicide Help Information

If you are thinking of hurting or killing yourself PLEASE call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

Learn how lifestyle changes can help you battle depression. KU is running clinical trials. To learn more call 785-864-4274 (leave a message) or visit http://psych.ku.edu.

If you are struggling and need to talk to someone who understands, call 1-866-WARM-EAR or 913-281-2251.

If you need more information or a referral, please call Mental Health of America at 913-281-2221.

No matter your financial situation, there is help available. Please seek help if you or someone you know is suffering.

Suicide Help Information Online

If you are having suicidal thoughts, we urge you to get help immediately.

Go to a hospital, call 911 or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

Click on the boxes below for our FOX 4 You Matter reports and other helpful phone numbers and resources.

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