Lilia Zaharieva

Lilia Zaharieva

The Beginning

Lily was part way through an undergraduate degree in English and philosophy with the plan of becoming a lawyer, with the salary and prestige that can accompany the designation in mind. In May 2010, she decided to shift her entire focus to helping youth overcome challenges associated with mental health. Inspired by her personal experiences of living with a parent with mental illness, she decided to create the very support that she was lacking growing up. Her ability to relate to the youth she serves is her best asset and driving force in life.

The trigger to act on your idea:
I have long battled with a chronic and life-shortening illness that affected my energy on a daily basis. I was very sick, but avoiding the hospital stay I knew my body needed. Why? Because I didn’t want to fall behind in school. Why? So that I could get some shiny A’s and get into a shiny law school. All this just for appearances… I heard this now infamous quote from Steve Jobs:

“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

So I did the best thing I have ever done. I dropped out and admitted myself to the hospital for treatment. In those two weeks of contemplative bed rest, I decided to wake up and start taking some risks. InsideOUT was born when I looked at myself from the inside, and committed to taking authentic action.

Everything becomes crystal clear in the face of illness.

View Lilia’s video below, where she describes her story and the decisions she made when deciding to start insideOut.

First person to learn about your idea:
One of the first people who encouraged me was my then-boyfriend. He is a commerce student, and one of the most practical and grounded people I know. When he gave me the thumbs up, I thought, “Maybe this isn’t so crazy after all!” I’ll never forget some words he gave me during that vulnerable beginning. He said, “keep your head in the clouds, keep dreaming, keep imagining what could be.” I have found those words to be an excellent guiding force and they have proven themselves in unforeseen ways. The dreams that I had for my project once seemed ludicrous, but are now coming true at a constantly accelerating rate. No matter what happens, I have vowed to keep my head in the clouds.

Biggest doubt before you started:
My biggest doubt was in my abilities and preparedness. I knew nothing of finance, fundraising or facilitation. NOTHING. I had come from studying Aristotle into a world entirely unknown to me. Doubt is not a bad thing in itself. Even as my skills grow it remains with me. I just know now when to listen to it and when to ignore and embrace my youthful audacity!

Starting Point – the first action you took:
I started by finding great supporters. Interestingly enough, many of them came to me! A local designer offered his branding services. I am forever grateful for his contribution; it was a huge tipping point. I am a very image-oriented thinker, so to have a logo gave my vision some structure. This helped me more than any formal business plan could have at the time.

First major milestone:
July 2011 – presented first keynote at an international conference for youth. This was the first time I realized the power of my own voice to enable others.

First major challenge:
The initial challenge was my own self-confidence, but luckily this was buffered by the unwavering support of my friends and community.

Stay tuned for updates to Lilia’s story…

InsideOUT is an education and support initiative for youth who have a parent with a mental illness. This very high-risk group is neglected by the nuclear focus of the mental health world, although they are at the highest risk for developing mental illness themselves. InsideOUT creates a space for youth to be themselves and develop the coping skills are protective factors that build resilience.
The participating youth between the ages of 13-18 will engage in an innovative 12-week program to mitigate risk factors and enable youth to reach their potential.

Understanding Social Entrepreneurship insideOUT

I recently caught up with Lilia Zaharieva for her post launch scoop. This interview was atypical. My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was seven, so I was particularly drawn to her research findings, experiences, and insights.

Lilia had her mind blown at the three-day Child and Youth Mental Health Matters Conference – the first conference of its kind. “People attended from all over the world,” she said. “It’s an emerging field that’s starting to come out of the shadows and gain attention.”

Hearing from leaders in the field inspired her program’s new direction and best practices. “I was really drawn to the Australian ‘summer camp’ model which was implemented with great success,” she said. This led to her exploration of Adventure Therapy and an exciting new partnership. “Bonding together for three days amidst nature while hiking and kayaking accelerates connections and trust building,” she said.

Lilia’s hard work and reputation in the community earned her recognition and support from the BC Government’s Ministry of Children and Families.

Lilia was also approached by the BC Nurses Union to lead break-out sessions at their Annual Practice Conference. This was her first opportunity to facilitate adult workshops, an age group she’s looking to work with more in the future.

The sessions reaffirmed that parental mental illness is a common issue. “Participants shared their personal stories about being little parents growing up, but they also talked about how resilient they’d become,” said Lilia. “It was really uplifting,” she added.

Lilia’s observed a recurring stigma tied to mental illness in her work. Since the launch of this initiative and speaking publically about her own experience at TEDx, she’s no longer quiet.