(KPIX 5) — It’s senior celebration night at Ann Sobrato High and Lupe Barron’s playing defense for the school’s field Hockey team. Sitting on the side lines is her big sister Carla.

“(I’m) very proud of my little sister,” said Carla Barron. “She’s finally growing up.”

But off the field, the seventeen-year-old has had some tough times. A close family member struggles with a serious mental health care condition. She learned about when she was just five years old.

“He needed a lot of attention,” recalled Lupe Barron. “Which I now understand but at the moment I was kind of like, ‘Oh, they are ignoring me,’ but now I understand that he needed a lot of care. He needed a lot of support and love.”

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As her family rallied around their loved one and he began to heal, they also felt the stigma so often associated with mental health.

“I felt like it was just me and my family,” recalled Barron. “And (that) we were alone in this world.”

Through it all, she excelled at school, achieving a 4.0 average, playing sports and making friends. But it was an AP Psychology course that really changed her life. Students were asked to fill out a questionnaire about mental health care and families, and every kid in the class had a story to tell. Barron saw she and her family were not alone, a realization that was bittersweet.

“I was relieved to know that I wasn’t the only one,” Barron said. “But I was also kind of angry that no one ever spoke out about how normal it is and how we are not alone.”

She made the decision to speak about her family member’s journey. Her efforts inspired classmates and teachers, including her psychology teacher Andrea Kusanovich.

“I see her working with people,” said Kusanovich. “I see her helping people. I see her trying to make the world a better place.”

She’s headed to college in the fall to study nursing, and her mom Teresa couldn’t be more proud. And Barron has this advice for anyone who has a loved one struggling with mental health care.

“Stay informed,” advised Barron. “So know what the diagnosis is. Research it. And how to help to the best of your ability because sometimes you just can’t do anything. You just need to let them help themselves and let them heal first.”

If you or someone you know might need mental health care, there is help. The National Alliance On Mental Illness or N.A.M.I. has a toll free hotline you call. The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am-6 pm, ET. 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). You can also visit N.A.M.I.’s website here: https://www.nami.org/help

Michelle Griego