When I heard that the cover story of this week’s Time Magazine was about anxiety and depression, I knew I had to read it. Unfortunately, the online version is for subscribers only, but luckily I love to buy magazines so it wasn’t really a hard choice. I’ve thought about commenting on news stories related to mental illness, so I thought this was a good opportunity.
TRIGGER WARNING: Discussions of self-harm
This article, written by Susanna Schrobsdorff, included some interesting/alarming statistics related to mental illness in America:
- 3 million adolescents ages 12 to 17 in the U.S have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year
- Girls are more likely to experience depression (19.5% for females compared to 5.8% for males)
- 6.3 million teens ages 13 to 18 have had an anxiety disorder (in the U.S)
- Boys are more likely to be anxious than depressed (20.3% have had an anxiety disorder compared to 5.8% having a depressive episode)
- Only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment
The article does a great job at outlining the specific experiences of youth around mental illness. It attributes some of their mental health problems to the current climate that youth are growing up in. “They are the post-9//11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.”
While my experiences are different from today’s youth, I can certainly relate to feeling the angst of being a teenager heightened by mental illness. While social media wasn’t as pervasive when I was in high school, issues around bullying, self-image and anxiety about life after graduation still prevailed. What has changed is that mental health and mental illness are much more openly talked about now. I wasn’t as politically or culturally aware in high school, but I sincerely do not remember anyone discussing depression or anxiety with me in any real detail. There was certainly no discussion around ending the stigma surrounding it. I think I started to experience real depressive episodes in my last year of school, when I would spend days feeling low and hopeless. It was a typical occasion that I would cry in my art class or perhaps in the hallway. It started to get worse after high school as I grew older. I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it back then. I could have approached my family, that’s true, but I didn’t even really understand how I was feeling in order to express it. I remember having countless conversations with people who asked me what was wrong and all I could say was “I don’t know.”
The article also tells the stories of a few youth who in particular have engaged in behaviours of self-harm. I first of all want to say that they are very brave for sharing their stories. I also need to say that I have never actually engaged in this behaviour so I can’t really share my opinion on it or truly empathize, although I do know know, in some ways, how they are feeling. When I was in high school, a friend showed me her scars once and I did not know how to react at all. I hope that I was a good friend and supported her but it’s been a while so my memory has faded. I wish though that I had been given the resources in order to respond properly and help her through it.
I often think about these issues from a parent’s perspective, even though I am not one myself (yet). It must be so scary and overwhelming to hear about this. In most cases, parents just want what is best for their children and want to provide for them. It must be tough not to know what to do. The article does a great job in providing some tips on how to handle a situation like that, such as:
- Talking about real emotions
- Paying attention but not smothering
- Resisting getting angry
- Seeking help as soon as possible
- Treating the whole family (meaning, there could be an issue at home that is contributing to the stress and anxiety and depression).
It’s seriously so great to see this article on the front page and know that it is probably starting discussions all over North America about mental illness in youth.
I would like to leave off on a positive note. The article mentioned a great resource for youth in Maine called Project AWARE. They aim to help people manage their anxiety and depression through making films, address social issues and make a difference. Here’s one of their videos on YouTube that is pretty cool. It is amazing that people are trying to find creative ways for people to treat their mental illness and cope. Healthy, positive ways that bring people together, raise awareness and show youth that they are not alone.
Have you seen any cool resources for youth related to mental health? Let me know!