Dear Freshman Franny,
I know that you are feeling that pit in your stomach, slowly filling with the utter terror of failure. I know that you have a stack of homework as thick as your throat and that you get choked up with anxiety just looking at it. I know that all you want is someone to drop from the sky and help dig you out of this mess. I know what it feels like to stand in your shoes and quiver, but I also know what it's like to stand strong and solid on my own two feet and slay the darkness myself.
You just got home from a five hour marching band rehearsal. It’s nearing midnight as you lumber towards your desk, already stacked high with AP textbooks and cluttered with papers and worksheets. I can see you hunching over the laminated wood of the hardy desk, utterly consumed by stress and pressure to excel in every subject area. I can see the gears of your mind stalling and grinding from your poor mental management as you open the first textbook and begin to take notes. Too many things are racing through your mind so fast that you can barely catch one thought long enough to focus on just the one task. Finish the homework. Go sleep. Relax. Stress. All you want is for it all to stop - the thoughts piercing your mind, telling you that no matter how much effort you put forth, it will never be as good as someone else, that you will always be lacking. I can feel your heart sinking deeper into a black pit as its being dragged down by your own self-loathing. I just want to disappear. I don’t want to be here anymore. I can’t do it, each thought drumming down on your soul and weakening your resolve to keep moving forward.
You don’t know what is truly wrong with yourself at this moment because you can barely grapple one simple quadratic function let alone contemplate your mental well-being. Yet, I know you have noticed these same struggles in your friends and peers as they became less optimistic and increasingly shattered each day. You’ve said nothing to them; to console them, to ask for help, or to even broach the topic. You’re own fears driving you into isolation and despair just as those around you have done in a ceaseless decent into utter misery. Depression, it is what continually weighs you and your peers down. It is clear to see that so many of our youth, today, carry unspoken burdens and suffer in silence because they don’t know how to ask for help, just as you are now.
The simplicity of slipping down the rabbit hole of stress is becoming a gateway drug to high anxiety, suicide, and, most alarming, depression. “Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act,” according to the American Psychiatric Association. Some symptoms include: continual feelings of sadness, loss of interest inactivities or pursuits, change in appetite, change in sleep habits, loss or energy, fatigue, etc. It affects so much of our youth - in an article from BBC News I learned that 1 in every 8 teens have experienced a depressive point in their life - yet, parents, teachers, and fellow teens do not act to aid them and give them the tools to escape their own mental prisons. It’s too complicated, they just need a therapist, kids these days are too sensitive, these are all things I have been told or have heard being said to my peers who struggle with their emotional and mental well-being and it is quite frankly an outdated and useless way of thinking. maintain a balanced mental state.
If I had known more about what depression is and how it affected me, I would have been able to pull myself up or have been supported by someone close to me much sooner. The reality is, it is not hard at all to educate our youth on how to create a healthy mental environment for themselves that emphasizes school and life balance. Simply taking a few minutes during a class or at a school rally to address the topic and give ways to cope would be a wonderful first step into normalizing the issues teens face today and to allow for them to access the tools and skills they need in order to feel whole again. Just alerting people of the signs of anxiety and depression such as, trouble concentrating, insomnia, overthinking, memory issues, headaches and much more, could allow students to identify their own issues or allow teachers or friends to notice and step up to help. We need more parents, teachers, and students aware of the epidemic that is depression, so we can recognize it, identify it, and overcome these challenges, not only as individuals, but as a generation.
12th Grade Franny