About a month ago, a girl killed herself. A student at a local high school, on the honour roll, popular. Her story was kept very quiet – there was no sensational, sentimental news coverage about yet another casualty to the shoal-laden waters of teenager-hood. There were shocked whispers from those who knew her. And then, silence.
I am not saying that every teen suicide should be plastered all over the front pages. I cannot imagine that helps families deal with the pain; no doubt it would heighten the already unimaginable grief they suffer. What I want is for…God, what do I want? Let’s think about that for a second.
I want teen and young adult depression, behaviour disorders, and mental illness to go away, as in eradicated. This is an unrealistic wish because the stats are going in exactly the opposite direction. There is a crisis of mental illness among our young people. The children cannot be our future if they’re too ill to face today, never mind tomorrow.
There is a part of me that wants to run and hide from this information. I don’t suppose the Amish community would accept me and my two electronics-addicted kids but sometimes I am tempted to try. I can see us now, piling into our four-door sedan, driving to wherever the Amish live. We would abandon our car, our iPhones, our Blackberrys and we would stand, waiting and hopeful…please take us into your simpler world…save us.
Nope. They’d turn their buggies around and flee as if the Seven Horses of the Apocalypse were chasing them.
There is no escaping from the fact that our children are in jeopardy. A multitude of factors can be pointed to – from our obsession with material things to various media to our lousy diets. Are we, as some would argue, poisoning our own young with too much information, not enough sleep, and too much white sugar? Their little brains are being affected by something; they are short-circuiting like so many overloaded electrical panels.
Depression has long plagued the human race – evidence shows that even the ancient Egyptians suffered. I was born at the tail-end of the Boomer generation; I’ve suffered from depression off and on since birth. However, for most of my life, I slogged through the fog undiagnosed, as do a vast majority of people who live with some form of the illness.
Todays young people are not allowed the luxury of sleep or downtime. Busy children are children who don’t have time to get into trouble. Well-intentioned parents over-schedule – after all, extra-curricular activities will mean well-rounded, successful children and isn’t that what we want for our kids? Maybe they think that if their kids are kept busy, they won’t have time to get depressed. If only.
While parents over-schedule, the world over-stimulates. Studies now show that Internet use is changing the way kids brains develop. Factor in the crap diet that harried parents feed their kids as they speed down the highway to hockey practice from piano lessons in the minivan and you have a timetable for disaster, a recipe for a nervous breakdown. Don’t get me started on the genetics factor…
The principal at our local middle school gives a speech every September. It goes something like this: Your children, because of where they are in the developmental process, are about to leave you. They, for all intents and purposes, are going to be snatched by aliens. They will be returned to you in about 7-10 years when their frontal lobes are closer to being fully developed. Be patient. One day, your child will reappear as if they’d been there all along. They’ll say “Good morning, Mom” and stand blinking in the kitchen wondering why they can’t find the cereal bowls even though you renovated the kitchen five years before. It’s ok. This is normal. Good luck.
The first time I heard that speech, I burst into tears.
I want to cry now when I think of all of those under-cooked brains out there that are beleaguered by feelings of hopelessness and despair far beyond what the normal teenager feels.
The statistics are scary. One out of every twenty teens is depressed. Look at the average class size in a high school or middle school. Do the math. A great many go forth undiagnosed because these same children cannot articulate what is happening in their heads. Their parents, too busy negotiating traffic whilst eating something in a paper wrapper, aren’t listening.
Listen. I’ll say it again in case you weren’t listening: listen. This means shut up and listen. Parents are great at talking and listening at the same time which…isn’t…really…helpful…it’s no wonder our kids spend a good portion of their time rolling their eyes at us.
Enter another girl. Pretty and smart,she doesn’t think she is good enough for anything, not even living. Another statistic, another teen suffering from depression. She thought about doing what the other girl did. The difference? She asked for help. She knew something was horribly wrong and she took the first steps to stop it. She pushed her parents to listen, knowing that all the I love yous in the world were not enough.
People might sigh and exclaim, “But she is so young! So perfect!” Yes but depression is an illness that knows no boundaries. It can afflict anyone at any time. Is there hope? Absolutely! But, this other girl must work to re-wire her brain. There will be setbacks and sparks might fly. She must always be diligent, watchful, and aware. If she can change the way she perceives herself now, she can carry that learning into her future like a torch held high to light her way.