We live in a generation where mental health is everywhere. Celebrities everywhere are talking publicly about their experiences with anxiety, eating disorders, depression, etc. and this has allowed many of us to also become comfortable with talking about our struggles, essentially breaking the barriers and stigma surrounding mental health. But have we really? Or have we just scratched the surface of a massive epidemic that unfortunately is growing and growing amongst us.
Last year a boy in my school committed suicide, he was 15, FIFTEEN. Although, sadly, his older brother had also taken his life 10 months prior to this, on the surface he seemed fine. This boy was likable and popular, everything in someone that you just couldn’t imagine having an internal battle with himself. Sometimes when people mention his name, I think about the brief times I saw him walk past me, I didn’t really notice anything, not that I would as I didn’t really know him, but, he was never alone or visibly upset. But, perhaps that’s how he felt on the inside. At 15 we should be free from pain and sadness. Free from feeling alone and like life isn’t worth living. At 15 we should be 15 going on 16. We should be thinking about prom and playing football at lunch. But mental illness knows no age.
Following his death, the school was amazing and we had counselors to talk to and loads of support, in many ways we all came together as a community to check in on each other. To see if our friends were okay, whether they personally knew him or not. But to me what still baffles me is that we check in on each other when things are wrong. When things go wrong. When bad things happen. As millennials, especially teenagers, we face so much stress from friendship troubles, relationships, exams AT. EVERY. CORNER. The future. We forget to breathe sometimes and this stress builds and builds because every time we open our mouth and say “I’m so stressed,” more than likely the only response you get is “Me too.”
Don’t get me wrong – sometimes it IS just stress. Sometimes we just need a break to relax. But, often there’s something deeper that someone may want to talk about, someone may be trying to reach out for the support they need. 1 in 5 teenagers will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. That means in a class of 30 kids, at least 6 will experience some form of mental illness in their life. That’s how common it is. That’s how many of us are struggling. Yet, very often you look around the table at your group of friends and you couldn’t pinpoint who it is. Because mental illness isn’t physical, there is very rarely a scar or a bruise that we can notify it by, it’s internal and for some reason, we suck at talking about how we feel. But, that isn’t good enough. Talking is what makes movements. It’s what lets people know that you’re there.
Yes, not every stressed or sad person has a mental illness, we’re human, feeling those emotions are so normal and totally okay but, even asking if that person is alright or offering to hang out for some ‘down-time’ may prevent something that hasn’t even started yet. We need to look out for each other. We need to be there even when things are fine because that’s how you know you’re not alone. We need to do better.
So say hi to your friends, smile at people in the corridor, reach out to someone you know may be struggling. We need to check up on our friends. Don’t dismiss someone if they’re trying to talk to you about how they are genuinely feeling. We need to check up on our friends. Forget your pride and talk to whoever it is whether boy or girl. Mental illness knows no gender just like a physical one. So stop not asking how your friends are because he’s a he and she’s a she and it’s ‘cringey’ to talk about your feelings. We need to check up on our friends. Stop not asking each other how you’re doing because of the sadness of something or a bad moment is gone. We need to check up on our friends. Stop leaving each other out of plans if you know it’ll hurt someone. We need to check up on our friends. Stop being scared to ask if something is wrong. We need to check up on our friends. Stop checking in because someone seems happy when you look at them or by the way they talk and behave. We need to check up on our friends.
We need to check up on our friends.
Check up on your friends.