A Former Runway Model Is Destigmatizing Mental Health, One Girl at a Time
Mackenzie Drazen made her runway debut at 15—at a Valentino Couture show, no less. At the time, she was balancing fashion weeks with exam weeks, multitasking her modeling career with being a regular student. But her life took an unexpected turn when her little sister committed suicide Mackenzie's first year in college. The tragedy—which came after years of suppressed mental health problems—inspired the model to leave fashion behind to focus on helping people who went through what she did.
What inspired you to start TEAM, and how did you put everything into motion?
After losing my sister to depression my freshman year of college, I spent hours upon hours laying on the floor staring at the ceiling with tears rolling down my face, trying to come to terms with how I could have been a better sister. It was the darkest time of my life, but eventually things started to make more sense as I began to understand her illness better. I desperately wanted to create some sort of platform to tell other sisters or brothers or moms or friends what I had finally figured out.
A light bulb went off in my brain and I finally figured out how I was going to share my thoughts: a website! I spent that entire summer researching and brainstorming how I could create a website that could be the support for the support. Luckily word traveled fast about what I was doing and I was put in contact with Dr. Amy Heneghan of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. She helped mentor me through her summer internship program in pediatrics, which I joined last minute. TEAM eventually grew from me sitting in my kitchen at odd hours, normally in either my pajamas or sweaty riding clothes into a full working team of experts.
There is suuuuuch an enormous stigma around mental illness. What’s your advice for a teen girl who thinks there might be something wrong and isn't sure what to do next?
In my experience, stigma stems from fear of the unknown. People don’t want to talk about mental health because they don’t understand it, and that scares them. Information is the best way to combat this fear—that’s where TEAM comes in! We have lots of quick and dirty information on the most common mental conditions. Additionally, make sure to be honest with yourself and your friends about your own mental and emotional health. The more we start talking about these issues, the faster the stigma will disappear.
You were a model during some of the arguably hardest years of a teen girl's' life. What was your experience like?
I was bullied in middle school and avoided the social scene in high school as I rode horses competitively, so I never had time to go to parties or hang out after school. When I started modeling, I switched over to online school so I could continue my education while I was working in fashion. Though it has a very harsh reputation, the modeling world really helped me build self-confidence. People in the fashion industry really appreciate attributes that are different. In fact, the physical attributes that I was made fun of for growing up were the very ones that made me a successful model. Overall, my modeling career gave me a more mature outlook on people in general.
A lot of girls see people on Instagram and in magazines and think they need to look or even just be a certain way, and it must be even harder when you're actually ~in~ it. What's your advice for accepting who you are?
It breaks my heart that people look at magazines and think that they have to look a certain way (I know, pretty hypocritical coming from an ex-model). Life is about being happy and finding what you're passionate about and what you like to do and who you like to do those things with. True friendships are not made on how good you look in jeans or how well you rock crop tops; corporations are not founded on looking fabulous in a skirt–they are made by sexy brains.
Want to help someone in your life? (Duh.) Look no further than TEAM.