Mental Health has again been in the UK press this morning- this time regarding the inadequate care and treatment of suicidal teens.
Mental heath issues during the teenage years is a topic very close to my heart. I had some extremely despairing thoughts and feelings whilst in high school and sixth form. My mood had started swinging from the age of about 13 onwards. It never occurred to me that I had an illness.
Depression & Anxiety During School Years
Sobbing silently in my bedroom I tried to conceal my unhappiness from my parents to protect them. They both had depression and the last thing I wanted was to make them worse! I was so lonely. I didn’t even know what I was crying about half the time. But I remember that desperate helplessness and thinking that things would never get better for me. I was angry and jealous that the other kids seemed to find school so easy to cope with, whilst I found it extremely stressful, even traumatic.
I was terrified of a couple of boisterous, aggressive lads in our class. Their chaotic, angry natures disturbed me a lot and I felt extremely uncomfortable even having them in the class. They weren’t particularly horrible to me, but their behaviour to others was enough to affect me negatively.
The jostling, pushing and rushing through crowds of chaotic kids, in a mad scramble to get from one class to the next, was enough to leave me feeling exhausted! I never really knew why. I was always so affected with anxiety in these situations- I was in a chronic state of stress.
I think all this was a part of my general unhappiness with my teenage life. I was so sensitive and really needed a calm, quiet working environment, even then. School was an unsettling, disturbing, even threatening environment for me- and I went to a fairly decent school! I dreaded Monday mornings with a passion.
This was just one aspect of the difficulties I encountered as a teenager. In retrospect I wish my parents or teachers had done more to help me. There was a vague attempt to speak with my parents when I had frequent short episodes of sickness from school, but nothing ever came of it. My parents knew I cried regularly due to red, puffy eyes, but my Mum attributed it to hormones. I think they should have sent me to a doctor or counsellor.
I wish I had known sooner that I was experiencing mental illness. I just thought I was defective and felt in the wrong place on the wrong planet. I couldn’t talk to anybody at all about how I felt. I was so worried about making Mum & Dad’s depression worse. I felt completely responsible for their happiness. I didn’t realise I was only responsible for mine.
Awareness & Intervention
I was so innocent and naive. How could I have known I was ill or that there was help available out there? Why didn’t anyone do anything to help me? I don’t think I could have hidden it all that well, could I? Maybe I did! It was an extremely lonely time. This and the anxiety were a constant.
So yeah, I feel exceedingly for teenagers who are experiencing their own, or their parents’, mental health problems. I think as much as anything I just wish that someone, anyone, had noticed and got me to a doctor or counsellor whilst I was still that young. I think parents and teachers (I know they are very overloaded already, but they are important to kids) should be made more aware of the signs a kid is experiencing difficulties with mental ill health s intervention can be taken earlier. I’m sure I wasn’t completely devoid of signs of my illness, I just didn’t know that help was available or how to ask for it.
You Never Have to be Alone.
If I could revisit my 13-year-old-self today, I would tell her that her repeated, despairing sobs weren’t normal and that she doesn’t have to suffer in silence or alone. There is help available to her. An earlier diagnosis would have helped me enormously, just so I could feel that at least there was a clinical reason for my emotional pain- I wasn’t just a freak!
Maybe this was all just my experience. Maybe kids these days are better informed and get help more quickly than I did. But judging by the news article today, enough still isn’t being done to help teenagers in distress.
Resources & Links
Child and Adolescent Mental Health
The Guardian- Today’s Youth: Anxious, Depressed & Anti-Social
School-based Mental Health Support Results in Positive Outcomes for Children
Photo Credit: David Castello Dominici