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“I just want  to help one person” Young woman hopes ‘her story’ raises awareness of mental illness.

In 2022, Cassie Clinger did a photo layout with RaDawn Photography to bring awareness to mental health issues. “I wanted to be able to show the emotions through the pictures – to make it real,” Clinger told SVI Media.


By Julie Dockstader Heaps
SVI Media

Cassie Clinger’s favorite hoodie is gray and has written on the back: “100 REASONS TO STAY ALIVE.” Among those reasons are numbers 2, 38 and 58: “Your next favorite song…, Planning a party…, Opening all the windows on a pretty day.”

But it’s number 98 that probably best describes Cassie: “Your story saving someone else.”

That’s what the 21-year-old Freedom resident hopes happens by her “sharing her story” — a journey through years of depression, sexual assaults, self-harm, a serious suicide attempt and hospitalizations to wellness, family, life and gratitude.

“I hope I can just reach one person, that is my goal,” Clinger said. “I just want to help one person know they are not alone and that they can be okay.”

That “one person” has grown to hundreds as a Facebook group created by Clinger now numbers 567 — and as she live-streams a nationwide support group she began to not only give those struggling with mental health issues a place to ask questions and share coping mechanisms but also to break the stigma — the taboo — of talking about it.

“One of my hopes is to break the stigma and spread awareness,” Clinger explained. “It’s not a bad thing to struggle, and you’re not the only one who struggles. That’s the biggest thing that makes a difference is to just talk about it. The more you talk about it, the less uncomfortable it’s going to be.”

And to “talk about it,” Clinger spoke recently with SVI Media during a candid telephone interview about her struggle with mental illness since junior high and about her passion to help others know — “We are not alone” — the name of her Facebook group.

Clinger invites those struggling with mental health and their loved ones to not only join the  caring community on her Facebook group, but also to link up with her live-streamed support group. Her first event was Saturday, February 17, at the Thayne Community Center, and the second is scheduled for Tuesday, February 27, also at the Thayne Community Center.

Clinger’s efforts come with the support of the Star Valley Flame of Life, started by Amber Titensor after the death by suicide of her son, Teagan, in 2021. The Flame of Life is a local suicide prevention and mental health awareness organization.

“I love that Cassie is so willing and open and vulnerable about her own experiences, because I think her experiences really speak to so many people who are having the same struggles,” Titensor told SVI Media. “What a brave, courageous thing to do, and it’s absolutely what we need.”

In fact, it was Titensor to whom Clinger reached out when she wanted to go public with her struggles. “I reached out to her to know where to start,” Clinger related. “Where can I share my story and help people?”

Clinger’s “story” begins when she was about 12 years old — a somewhat typical age for adolescent mental health issues. “I started feeling depression,” Clinger recalled. “Shortly after, I started to self-harm.”

In “cutting” she found a surreal sense of release. “I was hurting so much on the inside, I just wanted to release it. It would make me feel a little better. By 15 or 16, it was an addiction.”

Other events seemed to snowball for Clinger. Along with the depression and anxiety, there were traumatic events, including incidents of sexual assault. Clinger cut off all her hair.

“A lot of people made fun of me for the short hair and for the scratches,” she said. And gossip always makes its insidious loop. She learned she was being called “Crazy Cassie.”

The term, “crazy,” said Clinger, is demeaning. “It’s taking away from the reality of the realness of mental illness. It’s making it seem like it’s a joke.

“When you’re a joke, it really sucks. That’s hurtful.”

Finally, just before she turned 17, Clinger made a serious attempt on her life. The young woman expressed gratitude for an aware high school janitor who got her help. She spent several days in the hospital.

“In that moment, I felt so alone,” Clinger said. “I was sick of hurting. I was sick of feeling so sad and lonely and that I was just a burden to my family. I felt they would be better without me.”

Cassie’s favorite hoodie, with the words “100 Reasons to Stay Alive.” Number 98 is “Your story saving someone else.” That is Cassie’s hope with her efforts to bring awareness to mental health and wellness.

She now knows that’s far from the truth. And Clinger wants family members of loved ones who have attempted or completed suicide to know it’s no one’s fault. “A lot of people blame themselves for a loved one’s suicide — whether it’s an attempt or completed. It’s nobody’s fault.”

Clinger says she now knows had she completed, her family would have been devastated. “They would have lost out on my awesome adulthood,” she added, with her typical warm humor. “And I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to get better!”

Her parents, Jared and Cynthia Clinger, support and love their daughter. Cassie especially credits her mom. “She was loving and supportive. That empathy is just who my mom is.”

Several things have come together for Cassie Clinger in her “journey” to wellness. A friend who visited her in the hospital, a compassionate school athletic trainer, the then-mission president who told her angels had protected her — that she is here for a reason — and her dad beseeching her to do the mental work necessary to move forward.

In 2022, she felt ready to “share her story. She did a series of photographs with RaDawn Photography to portray and bring awareness to mental health issues— and started “We are not alone.”

Clinger knows she’ll always have  “chronic [mental] illness.” She’s been diagnosed as bipolar with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). She credits therapy and “proper medications that put me where I needed to be mentally. That kind of kick-started less issues for me.”

Cassie Clinger and Chris Moon and their family (PHOTOS COURTESY CASSIE CLINGER)

It has been four years since Clinger self-harmed. “I know that is behind me, and I’m in a different phase of my life now.”

Today, the young woman who will be 22 in April works as a patient service representative at Star Valley Health Alpine Clinic/Urgent Care. She’s a mother to two boys, 2 1/2 -year-old Cache, and 8-month-old Charlie. She also has four stepchildren with her partner, Chris Moon, whom she credits along with her parents for continual support.

Her family has experienced recent trauma that tests and solidifies them. Clinger’s grandmother — and friend — Ruth Swenson, died February 13 in a house fire in Osmond. Clinger recalled telling her grandmother, “’Grandma, I want to do something meaningful.’ She said I could help people and I just needed to start.”

To join Clinger’s support group and live-streamed event, see “We are not alone” on Facebook. Cassie Clinger’s next live-stream event will be Tuesday, February 27, at 6 p.m. at the Thayne Community Center. In-person or live-stream participants need not register.

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