When Solome Tibebu, 20, was a teenager, her anxiety was so severe that she didn’t even want to be left home alone when her mother took their dog for a walk.
At the age of 15, Solome decided to start an organization to help other teenagers struggling with anxiety. It’s called AnxietyInTeens. She was motivated to help teens avoid the feeling of hopelessness that she experienced with her own anxiety.
“I hope that as many teens as possible who need [help] will know about it and get help from it,” Solome said.
ThreeSixty Journalism is nonprofit youth journalism program based at the University of St Thomas in St. Paul. It is committed to bringing diverse voices into journalism and related professions and to using intense, personal instruction in the craft and principles of journalism to strengthen the civic literacy, writing skills and college-readiness of Minnesota teens.
Now a student at the University of St. Thomas, Solome was in middle school when she began experiencing anxiety attacks. Her mother, Jolanta Tibebu, began to notice changes in her daughter.
“She was crying more often. She kept saying she was afraid. She didn’t want to be alone,” Jolanta said. “She was especially anxious when we were apart, and would call often because she was scared.”
Her family didn’t understand that Solome was struggling with anxiety.
“My fears were that she would never get better and that she would be miserable for the rest of her life,” Jolanta said.
After having a few years of therapy with counselors, who put her on anxiety medication, Solome started to get better. During the time of her attacks, Solome had looked on Google for help but didn’t find anything useful.
“There are 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety today,” Solome said. “There must be some [resource] out there, you’d think!”
Eventually, when Solome was 15, she decided to start AnxietyInTeens and a website so teenagers had an online resource.
For Solome, creating the website wasn’t a simple process. She had many people helping her along the way with things like web design and content production.
“I’m no web expert,” Solome said. “I had to find and meet the right type of people … it was really just talking to as many people as I could, learning more and gaining their help.”
Solome hopes that users of the site will learn healthy ways to manage their stress and will get to meet other people dealing with similar problems. Her website has articles about dealing with anxiety, inspirational quotes, short-term and long-term tips to relieve panic attacks, information on types of anxiety disorders and a community discussion forum.
“There are a lot of sites out there explaining what anxiety is [that are] very medical, like Web MD, but it’s not really a community,” Solome said. “This is uniquely for teens, uniquely for anxiety disorders and stress.”
The AnxietyInTeens community forum is filled with members talking about their disorders, their worries, and their successes.
“People don’t talk about mental illnesses today. This is a problem,” Solome said.
Members’ names are kept confidential so that they can feel more open to sharing with other teens.
“I’m glad I found this place,” wrote JRW454, a user on the site. “Now I can’t wait until it really starts to pick up. I’ve been looking for friends who really understand me, and that means my anxiety, for a long time.”
Some write just to express their feelings or tell a personal story.
“My sister has extreme anxiety, and my mom told us that my dad had been plagued with post-traumatic stress disorder for almost 20 years,” wrote Tish4. “My sister and I were really surprised to hear this because we had no idea.”
Not only has this site helped other teens learn about themselves, it has also helped Solome learn about herself.
“I learned that I have the capability to help people,” Solome said, “and even if it was just one person who’s going and reading these articles, that just makes it all worthwhile.”
In the future, Solome said she hopes to get more feedback from parents and teens to make AnxietyInTeens a better resource. She also hopes to compile a book of success stories from people who have overcome anxiety disorders.
Solome has also continued to work with University of St. Thomas students who volunteered to help AnxietyInTeens last year as part of a program they took to graduate. With their help, Solome hopes AnxietyInTeens will continue to be a great resource for teens.
“My dream would be that every teen everywhere would have some resource to turn to wherever they are, whenever they need it,” she said.