Mental health speaker Jeff Yalden spent Monday and Tuesday in Knoxville speaking to students at both the high school and middle school, as well as parents and community members.
Yalden was brought to Knoxville by the Your Life Matters committee. Following a successful Your Life Matters 5K run held in September, the committee used the funds raised to bring Yalden in.
This was the second year for the Your Life Matters 5K. The race generated over $17,000.
Committee member Michaela Bigaouette explained that the Your Life Matters committee has the mission of helping the students in the community. Before introducing Yalden to the high schoolers, she said, “We want to prevent suicide. We want to raise mental wellness in our young people. And the reason is because you guys are important to us. You are what matters.”
Yalden spoke to middle school students on September 30 at KPAC, followed by a presentation to parents and community members that evening. He then spoke to students at the high school on October 1. His message focused around mental health and wellness, as well as suicide prevention.
Yalden is the first to admit that he is not a typical public speaker. He does not use a script or stand behind a lectern. Instead, he walks around the auditorium during his presentation, sometimes sitting next to students or asking questions to those seated in the front row.
“I probably do everything a professional speaker is not supposed to do,” says Yalden.
Yet his unconventional methods allow Yalden to connect with his audiences. He shows his personality and allows audience members a glimpse into his life, sharing both positive and negative aspects.
Yalden has been traveling the world speaking on mental health for 28 years. The former marine openly discusses his personal struggles with mental illness during his presentation. However, he makes it clear that he does not let mental illness define him.
“Everyday I want to get better,” Yalden says. “I want to be a victor.”
Today, Yalden says he is the healthiest he has ever been. He uses this to help encourage students to grow and adopt a similar mindset.
“You either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset,” Yalden said.
Through his presentations, Yalden hopes to encourage young people across the world to focus on having a growth mindset. He encourages students to learn one new thing each day and hopes his presentation plants that seed in their minds.
During his presentation, Yalden reminded students that they have their entire lives ahead of them. Despite the struggles they might currently face, Yalden told students not to make decisions that will permanently impact them based on how they feel today.
“When life knocks us down, we have to pick ourselves back up,” he said. “What you’re going through today does not mean tomorrow will be the same. Breathe. It’ll be okay.”
Following his presentation, Yalden was available throughout the day to meet with any student who wanted to talk to him. He made it clear that he cared about everyone in the room and was there to offer support to anyone who needed it.
“I don’t want someone to ever walk away from me thinking I never cared about them,” said Yalden.
The Your Life Matters committee is appreciative of all the participants and volunteers whose efforts made the 5K and Jeff Yalden’s visit possible. They look forward to continuing efforts to promote suicide prevention and awareness in our community.