May 28, 2019
May is Mental Health Awareness month. In recent years, more information and thus knowledge about mental health and illnesses has entered the public eye. Earlier this month, The Weber School held some mental health awareness activities to raise the level of consciousness of mental health in the student body. Bracelets that promoted mental health awareness were handed out. Yoga was provided to offer meditation and relaxation. Therapy dogs were also brought to the campus so that the students could enjoy some therapeutic relaxation with the animals.
School is a major source of anxiety for teens. A full 83 percent of students claim in a finding done by Stress In America that school was “a somewhat or significant source of stress.” The same study was done on adults, and while stress in an adult’s life is to be expected, teenagers reported feeling equally, if not more, stressed than adults.
Dr. Harold Koplewicz is the founding president of The Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit children’s mental health advocacy group. He believes “teenagers have a different type of depression. They don’t seem sad. They seem irritable. This really has an effect on [their] concentration, which will affect school. It will affect [their] desire to continue playing sports. It’ll affect [their] desire of being with your friends.”
Depression can be difficult to diagnose in teens because adults may expect teens to act moody. Also, adolescents do not always understand or express their feelings very well. They may not be aware of the symptoms of depression and may not seek help. According to The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Estimates show that “only 20 percent of these children are ever diagnosed and receive treatment; 80 percent aren’t receiving treatment.” It is important for parents to recognize the signs in their kids and have open dialogue with their kids. Common symptoms of depression include poor work completion, crying, somatic complaints, difficulty concentrating, distractibility and disinterest in day-to-day life.
According to Whitney Justice, Licensed Professional Counselor/Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, “Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses in teens often go unnoticed because people don’t know how to express themselves along with staying so busy in the shuffle of life. Teens are more likely to wear a mask in general. They haven’t yet developed the interpersonal or emotional intelligence skills to be able to identify how they feel and ask for what they need from others. However, early intervention is often correlated with a better prognosis for healing and recovery.”
There are other factors in conjunction with school that contribute to anxiety and depression in teenagers. Unrealistic academic, social or family expectations can create a strong sense of rejection and can lead to deep disappointment. Today’s teens are bombarded by conflicting messages from parents, friends and society. Sleep deprivation can make the stress of school and social life worse. Lack of sleep will sometimes lower students’ grades, which then leads to disappointment for themselves and from their parents.
Many high-performing students have anxiety and depression. “Many students who report these ‘unhealthily’ high stress levels are also taking multiple honors or AP classes,” reported Stress In America. The purpose of AP classes is to prepare students for college, and AP students usually end up with a higher GPA and an easier road to college if they do well in those classes. However, efforts to reach this goal often cost their mental health and social life. Perfectionism is common in these high-performing students, and is an aspect of anxiety. According to Julie Granger, teen life coach, “overachieving causes us to miss out on the beauty of life. We all need to take time to slow down. We need to love ourselves enough to let go.” This advice will inevitably help those whose mental health is suffering, but it is difficult advice for anyone, especially teens to follow.
It is extremely important that teenagers receive prompt, professional treatment if their depression or anxiety isn’t getting better. Therapy can help teens understand why they are depressed and learn to cope with stressful situations. Depending on the situation, treatment may consist of individual, group or family counseling. Medications that can be prescribed by a psychiatrist may be necessary to help teens feel better. Many teens are resistant to the idea of therapy, so adult encouragement and support can help the teens feel secure with that kind of treatment.
Justice later goes on to say, “as cheesy as it sounds, if you see something, say something. The worst thing that someone can do is to be so afraid to say something, that they say nothing. It is courageous to be able to ask somebody when you are worried or to involve a trusted adult. The most caring and courageous action someone can take when someone is concerned about a friend is to talk to them directly in a real way and involve a trusted adult when needed, such as a counselor or parent. Although teenagers might feel they need to keep every secret in order to be a good friend, if we keep a secret that a friend is struggling, it can be more harmful than helpful.”
Society is slowly, but surely breaking the stigmas on mental health. If seeing a professional therapist is not possible, talking with a trusted individual is a great first step. Weber Sophomore and 10th Grade Representative Bobbi Sloan thinks that “mental health is dealt with better at Weber than at other schools because we have a smaller workload and a smaller student-to-teacher ratio.”
Anxiety in teens continues after high school and in to college. According to Emily Takieddine, Director of Development and Parent Giving at the Georgia Institute of Technology, “on college campuses throughout the U.S., students face daily stress and pressures as they navigate rigorous academic environments and a plethora of extra-curricular activities. Georgia Tech responds to its students needs with an innovative and holistic approach to health and mental wellbeing.”
Sloan is proud of the effort Weber has made, but she believes that the Weber community can do more: “To encourage people to open up about mental health, we need to emphasize it more and talk about it not only during mental health week. During mental health week the school needs to do more to actually raise awareness. Talking about actual experiences with mental illness and perhaps creating a fundraiser for local help hotlines will make more of an impact on the Weber community. It is easier to speak up when people know that they are in company. It is also important for people not struggling with mental health to understand that it is serious topic and there are people in our community who struggle with mental health.”
Mental health is a very real problem. Listening without judgment to a friend’s or family member’s mental health issues can make all the difference. If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you or a loved one is in a possibly life threatening situation please call 911. Other hotlines are available for related mental health issues. The kindest thing you can do for yourself if you are suffering is let a trusted adult or friend know. Recovery is possible, but please reach out and take the first step so that you can get the help you need.