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Grad Issue: Mental health sufferer hopes to help troubled youth

Having attempted to take his own life three times, Nicholas J. Aurelio Tollardo almost didn’t make it to the end of his college career, but each time, he picked himself up and pushed forward to make it to his graduation day.

He was diagnosed with depression when he attempted to commit suicide for the first time at age 16, he said. He made two attempts: one at age 19, the other at age 21.

Enrolled at UNM since the fall semester of 2010, he said his first couple of years at the University were tough. He felt like he could not handle the work and failed a couple of courses.

“High grades and success have always been a priority of mine, and it comes from my mother who pushed me hard to succeed and do the best I could,” Tollardo said “I felt like I let myself down, but primarily I felt like I let my mother down.”

He then lost his Lottery Scholarship and the current University financial advisor said there was no way to apply for it again.

Tollardo said this was “one of the dominos that pushed me off the edge.”

He decided to take a break from school, but when he felt the depression became too much for him to handle, Tollardo started to get the help through medication and therapy.

“It was at this point, when my depression became too much, that I had to leave school and get heavily treated with medication and therapy to overcome my depression and underlying PTSD,” he said.

To take care of his mental health, step back from life and see who he really wanted to be, Tollardo took a break from school for two years. During that time, he found a job at a call center in Rio Rancho, where he discovered “a great community of friends.”

During those two years off, Tollardo said he could see that an education was the only route for him. He reapplied, petitioned for and received financial aid that has carried him through school to his graduation.

Tollardo’s message to those currently dealing with mental issues is not to buy into the words said about you.

“When you have mental disorders, it is easy to buy into the (negative words) that many people say about you,” he said. “A lot of people said I was being dramatic and that I could have bigger issues. Unless you have taken a stroll in my messy brain, you have no right to judge me for why I deal with things the way I do.”

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Tollardo hopes that in the future, the University is mindful of those who do have mental disorders, and to recognize what communities they come from.

“Are they homeless?” he said. “Are they LGBTQI? Have they been a victim of sexual assault? All of these questions are good questions to ask, because at the root of how you should treat anyone from these communities is compassion and patients. Be mindful of your speech and how you interpret something you feel you should know about but have never been through. Creating a space where every human being feels needed and welcomed is what helps a campus flourish and is what allows each human being to succeed.”

Tollarado encourages others to reach out and find treatment.

“If you are someone who is suffering from mental disorders, and you feel like there is no way out of your situation, I ask you to take the necessary steps in getting help for yourself,” he said “(It doesn’t matter) what anyone says about mental disorders being a weakness, we are warriors from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep. Don’t let anyone, including yourself, discourage you and say you cannot do it.”

Tollardo will be graduating with a bachelor's degree in psychology and plans to go for his master’s in social work. He wants to take care of troubled youth and give back to the youth of tomorrow. He is also a prospective student at the University of Nevada Reno and has high hopes of acceptance.

Denicia Aragon is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at on Twitter @deniciaaragon98.

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