How Cherrial Odell ’25 began to heal

April 21, 2022, 11:41 p.m.

Content warning: this story contains references to self harm and suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Additional resources are available here.

Cherrial Odell ’25 was 13 when she attempted to take her life for the second time.

She remembers being “at the lowest I’d ever been, probably even lower than when I had attempted to take my own life.”

“I could not respond to my parents,” she said. “I couldn’t look them in the eyes. I was somewhere else.”

Sitting beside Odell in the hospital was her friend Ryan. He pulled out his phone to show her videos of friends and supporters, each sharing a personal message of compassion and love.

“The people that were on the videos kind of shocked me out of my thoughts,” Odell said. “Within seconds, I was smiling.” That’s the secret to life, Ryan pointed out. “You can snap out of your thoughts and feelings at any point in time.”

The realization was transformative for Odell. “I can separate from these thoughts, they’re not true,” she said. “From there on, it was, How do I nurture this ability?”

Seeking help

After her suicide attempt, Odell embarked on a path toward healing aided by the Inspiring Children Foundation, a non-profit based in Odell’s home city of Las Vegas that empowers youth struggling with mental health and poverty.

The organization provided Odell and her mother with transitional housing while her mother was working through sobriety and legal challenges.

“I feel like we both are kind of healing together at the same time, which was really beautiful for me because I got to really grow that relationship with her,” Odell said.

Odell also began to prioritize mental healing by improving her relationships with those around her. At the time, she was not speaking with her father, but she soon came to realize that “a really big part of my healing was actually running toward a lot of my pain and conflict, especially in my relationship with my dad.”

The path toward healing is rarely linear. It takes twists and turns and can bring people to places they never thought would be part of their recovery. Odell recalls long phone calls in which her father verbally abused her, a painful reminder of “thoughts that I already had about myself and already believed.”

These types of difficult conversations are not part of everyone’s process, but for Odell, talking with her dad “forced me to grow and find love on such a deep level.”

Working with the Inspiring Children Foundation to repair her relationships and improve her mental health marked a turning point in Odell’s life. “I finally found a support system and a community that gave me the tools and the support and the wisdom to really heal,” Odell said.

These tools included skills like meditating, journaling and developing personal agency. “I can separate myself from my thoughts,” Odell explained. “I can choose how I react and how I respond to these things.”

Coming to the Farm

When she arrived at Stanford a few years later, Odell was nervous to navigate a different environment so far from home. “I didn’t know if I would be able to find that same kind of community coming here.”

Her transitional experience, as with many other students, has not been without loneliness. “Everything’s very new, but I’ve really enjoyed that challenge — I don’t feel that I’m suffering from it. It’s just something that’s challenging me to grow and find love,” Odell explained.

She has been able to nurture a close-knit community through classes on mindfulness and compassion taught by Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, a professor of Asian American Studies and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

“We all just got together, and it was basically just going really deep into life and healing,” Odell said.

For Murphy-Shigematsu, teaching courses that center mindfulness was inspired by seeing Stanford students like Odell grapple with mental health. “I wanted the classroom to be a place of collective learning and healing, integrating scholarship, creative expression and embodied learning,” he wrote.

Talking openly about mental health is a priority, Murphy-Shigematsu explained, because stigma can decline “when people are more open about the struggles of being human in a violent, uncertain, and complex world.”

Odell has found additional support and community through her internship at Health and Human Performance (HHP), a Stanford program that hosts wellness and outdoors classes. Erika Duncan, an administrative associate at HHP, lauded the enthusiasm Odell brings to her role and noted the importance of sharing profiles on mental health.

“So often, only snippets of someone’s story are shared out in the world, and in HHP we believe in the power of seeing a human holistically,” Duncan wrote. “We want to bring attention to the pieces that are often invisible for not only individual learning but to also emphasize the need for Stanford to serve the whole student.”

Odell, too, values a holistic view and hopes others can learn from her experiences and growth. One of her greatest realizations was that hard times are not permanent. 

“We all go through hard times, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t heal, or that it’s forever,” she said.

Hoping to help others on their journey of healing, Odell began to host meditation and mindfulness streams on Twitch with the foundation that extended a helping hand during some of her greatest moments of struggle. Though originally meant to be a way for the organization to connect during the pandemic when they could no longer gather in-person, the platform ultimately grew to receiving nearly two million views in three months.

“It was one of those things where it’s a very non-threatening space, because you’re behind the computer,” Odell said. “I felt that it took away a lot of walls and filters that people might put up or things that people are typically scared to share.”

Odell stays connected with the Inspiring Children Foundation both on campus and when she returns home to Las Vegas during breaks. She and her mother used to serve as house parents in the Foundation’s transitional housing for those “that don’t have a safe space to stay, or are going through a hard time at home.” Today, Odell still stays in touch with many of those people back home, lending an ear whenever they may need it.

While nurturing connections and helping others is a core part of Odell’s goals in life, she also wants others to keep in mind that looking out for yourself is essential.

“Pursue learning and education, but that doesn’t mean throw your personal wellbeing and your personal growth out the window,” she said.

Looking back on her more difficult times, Odell realizes the strength of her growth. “When I talk about my suicide attempts and depression and the depths of my suffering, I feel so far from that place,” she said. 

“I’ve just experienced so much healing and so much love.”

Zoe Edelman '25 is one of The Daily's managing editors of the News section. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her dogs and sitting outside with a coffee.

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