May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it's more important than ever that we take of and acknowledge that mental health, along with our physical health, these days. There are so many people and resources to help people through tough times — including one local teen who has made it her mission.
For years, Evangelina Laufert felt alone, and the feeling wouldn't go away.
"I started showing signs of depression, feeling really upset about my place in life," she said. "It was really hard for me to find something that I could enjoy, and writing was one of those things, and that's how I helped get out of my depression."
But things finally started to blossom — call it the power of the pen. This 17-year-old author recently published her first novel, "Just For You." It follows the life of a teenager who faces difficult life challenges and her brother's declining mental health.
"I was kind of being a little bit bullied at my middle school, and I felt like no one really wanted to be friends with me. So I created a world where the main character did have a lot of friends and people did like being around her, and it really helped me kind of ground myself and find happiness," said Laufert.
It took her a year to finish — slaving away for hours in front of the computer, writing and rewriting sentences, editing every day. Her masterpiece was finished 90,000 words later. It was emotional writing it, but the experience was also therapeutic.
"I really want people to understand that mental health doesn't look a certain way, and it can manifest in everyone and anyone," she said. "It will look different every time. People really need to understand that. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be recognized as something really important."
Laufert's passion for writing started as a young child, penning her first book in 3rd grade. Today, no one is more proud of her than her mom, who stood by her shoulder to shoulder during those challenging early days.
"It's really stressful for everybody. Her sisters felt it because they love her, obviously, and they knew it was a struggle," said Megan Laufert. "Everyone sort of goes through it to some extent, but it's always painful, and she's my oldest, so it was also brand new. You just gotta roll with the punches and not give up."
Today at her old middle school, Evangelina feels right at home — so different than just a short time ago. Former teachers and administrators couldn't help but talk about their talented student.
"I'm so excited for Vangie that she's made this accomplishment," said Elaine Merz of Seattle Public Schools. "I've watched her grow up. I'm just really excited for her. I'm very proud of her."
Not even in college yet, Evangelina is already thinking about a career as an author. For now, she hopes "Just For You" hits home with others.
"I really hope that people read it and they can relate to it and they can learn something from it," she said. "Hopefully, help whatever problems they're having and help them go through what I went through and come out happier on the other side."