Studies show that the number of teenagers who report feeling regularly anxious and/or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years or so, that children today have anxiety levels similar to those of the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.
Our culture has become a breeding ground for poor mental health, especially teens. It’s not surprising that adolescence is one of the most susceptible times for issues such as anxiety and depression.
As a teenager, you are encouraged to demonstrate your newfound maturity by distancing yourself from your parents as much as physically and psychologically possible — relying on them much less for emotional support than you may have as a young child. Friends and peers may offer a certain degree of comfort, but many of them are just as confused as you are. The preoccupation with becoming an adult causes teenagers to withdraw from their families during possibly the most turbulent and emotionally trying period of life.
Teenagers are also famous for their persistent irritability and their tendency toward dramatic behavior — “teen angst,” if you will. However, in a culture where increasing amounts of academic and social pressure are placed on young adults, what would have been normal, hormonal moodiness is amplified and distorted into something much more severe.
Although I was always a fairly nervous child, I didn’t experience any sort of legitimate anxiety or depression until somewhere around the end of eighth grade. A lot of things that had been going on in my life accumulated and created a perfect storm of stress and unhappiness that sent me into a rut — a rut that I was completely and entirely stuck in for a solid two years.
I am lucky enough to have supportive parents who could sympathize with what I was experiencing, but sometimes sympathy wasn’t enough. I wanted to feel understood; I wanted a sense of camaraderie with other people my age who were going through similar things.
One of the most helpful resources I could find turned out to be an online community, on YouTube of all places. I found that there was a handful of younger people — younger women especially — who made videos on their experiences with anxiety, depression, body image and mental illnesses in general, to spread awareness and encourage recovery.
There was an even bigger handful of people who watched these videos. People who commented or responded to other comments — people who genuinely wanted to help out strangers going through similar struggles. These were people who not only understood what I was feeling, but offered authentic and beneficial suggestions on how to manage living with anxiety or depression on a day-to-day basis.
I think that these videos were helpful to me and many other people in part because of their accessibility. Teenagers who don’t feel comfortable telling anyone that they are dealing with mental illness now have somewhere they are able to get information.
That’s not to say that informational YouTube videos are a replacement for cognitive behavioral therapy or any other form of treatment, but they are certainly a step in the right direction — a step that many people would not normally be able to take, were it not for modern technology. After hearing so much about the negative effects of technology on teenagers, here is something good.
I strongly believe that there are not nearly enough resources out there for adolescents dealing with mental health issues, especially when you take into consideration the prevalence of anxiety and depression in contemporary society. There is still a stigma surrounding mental illness. Our culture teaches us that mental illness is something we must keep to ourselves, something that is too personal to share or discuss, something we should feel ashamed of.
I believe that one of the first steps to decreasing levels of anxiety and depression among teenagers is eliminating this stigma — teaching younger people that mental illness is not inherently humiliating and shameful, that millions of people suffer everyday, and that this suffering can be diminished by encouraging positive and healthy discourse.
Katie Huntington is a senior at Oneonta High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/news/lifestyles.