Many students have heard the phrase “school comes first,” from parents when they want to visit friends or relax. While some may need reminders about keeping track of their school work, mental health guidelines suggest that parents should be a little more careful before scolding their children.
Some parents fail to realize that their child might be working very hard in school and just needs a break to lower their stress. Mental health is important for everyone and should be checked often. Many people may not even realize they have a problem as it may be “normal” for them to feel so poor all the time. Mental health issues may provoke life-long issues if not resolved.
Mental health issues have been overlooked for generations and have often been taboo, although this status quo seems to be changing for younger generations.
Changing the Status Quo
Often, social issues develop in high school. This makes sense as that is the age when people try to figure out who they are, hormones change, and many realize that living in this world isn’t as easy as it once seemed when they were children. In addition, many teenagers constantly compare themselves to others which means they can develop insecurities which itself isn’t a mental health issue but can lead to one¹. Furthermore, students have lots of pressure to do well in school so they can get into a dignified university. Many students probably use their leftover time to participate in an extracurricular activity or hang out with friends, not to focus on mental health which can evolve into increased mental health issues. Some US students are trying to ease this pain by fighting for the incorporation of “mental health days” into the school system.
Last year, high school student activists in Oregon pushed the state to pass a law allowing students to take mental health days. Their school calendar now includes days where students can choose to stay home and focus on their mental health. Students in states such as Colorado, Florida and Washington, are attempting to pass similar laws.¹
The idea to include mental health days in school came up at a summer camp for student leaders of high schools from Oregon. Many talked about suicides of friends and talked openly about their own mental health struggles. The student leaders created a group, “Students for a Healthy Oregon”, and enlisted the help of psychologists and lobbyists to volunteer as advisers.¹
“High school can be a lonely, difficult place to begin … but there’s so much more pressure these days, getting into college … even just the state of the world … climate change, and everything going on with politics. A lot of times it can feel like the world is about to end.” said Hailey Hardcastle, an Oregon high school activist.¹
One issue that serves as a cause for anxiety of high schoolers in the US is the dramatic rise of school shootings¹. This isn’t an issue that will go away on its own, and students fear their classrooms could be next. A student from a school in Colorado that had a school shooting suggested that people are still emotionally hurt and that mental health days like this would help.¹
Some legislators worried that students would use mental health days as an excuse to skip school or that this law would stop young people from resolving their issues. Oregon State Senator, Dallas Heard, said he believes students need to “toughen up” and that life is going to get a lot harder. One of the students responded to Heard, saying, “There will be students that will abuse the system but there will be students that this will save.”¹
Mental health problems among youths have risen in recent years. Suicidal thoughts among teens ages 18 or 19 increased 46% during a 9-year period, 2008-2017, and suicide attempts among people ages 22 or 23 doubled. Suicide has become the second-most-common cause of death among teens and young adults. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that rates of suicide increased by 56% from 2007 to 2017 among people ages 10 to 24.¹
While no one should have suicidal thoughts, it should be completely unacceptable for someone as innocent as a 10-year-old child to think them. This truly heartbreaking situation raises many serious questions about what has caused this increase.
Some experts linked the rising mental health epidemic to lack of community, the rise of social media, and bullying. Jennifer Rothman, a senior manager at the National Alliance on Mental Illness said, “… mental sick days are a way to at least end the silence and talk about the problem.”¹
After a year of fighting, the law was passed; and last year, 2019, was the first school year where the Oregon mental health law was put into action. This is a potential solution to a problem that has occurred for far too long and is a start for changing the status quo and stigma of mental health issues. The students are now trying to pass a second bill to incorporate mental health into annual physical-health checkups at Oregon schools.¹
No one should have these problems especially at such an early stage of life. The issue has grown so substantially that the anxiety levels an ordinary student has in this generation is more than those of a psych ward patient in the 1950’s.¹
Why Current Mental Health Issues Stand Out More Than Previous Generations
For a substantial amount of time in the 20th Century, prominently in the beginning, people were discouraged from focusing on mental health. Most people did what they were supposed to do and didn’t want to create more problems themselves.
During much of the 20th Century, the issues that could be discussed concerned war, racism, and financial trouble (in the course of the Great Depression in particular). It is great that people had opinions about these issues, but the average person was not encouraged to discuss personal issues, and especially not at the dinner table.
There were likely not many conversations back then about climate change, the massive amount of money college costs, LGBTQ+ issues, anxiety, and depression. Some of these issues are very old but only newly discussed.
It’s not that the mental health issues we have today didn’t plague older generations, it was just taboo for them to discuss¹ as it showed that the individual did not have the “perfect life”.
If a child showed signs of poor mental health, learning disabilities, said they were gay or wanted to change genders, some parents bundled them off to an asylum or a camp to make them “better” and keep them away from the rest of society. Knowing this, many children probably didn’t want to go through this torture, so they decided to keep quiet about their problems.
Were parents of children who sent their child to institutions only embarrassed of their child’s behavior and didn’t want to deal with it, or did they actually think that these institutions would help them? It could be a mix of both.
At West Ham Mental Hospital in London, visiting hours were restricted to two and a half hours per week and presents could only be given to inmates through the nurse in charge of the visiting room. Of the twenty-four children admitted to this asylum (between 1894-1920), only two are known to have left. What’s interesting about this is that the two that left were only sent to the asylum due to stress caused by work. The others were sent to the asylum for difficulties in learning and for poor behavior.¹
Some parents sent their LGBTQ+ child to a conversion therapy to convert them to becoming heterosexual. Homosexuality was considered sinful and even criminal for centuries. In the late 19th century, doctors began to try and “reverse” it through performing hypnosis, electroconvulsive therapy, lobotomies, or aversion therapy (electrically shocks or makes the patient vomit when looking at photos of LGBTQ+ activity). In the 1960s and 1970s, a gay rights movement demanded equality, and the practice of conversion therapy within the medical field fizzled out. However, religious groups took over the practice using talk therapy and exorcisms. James Guay, a gay man who attended weekly conversion seminars as a teen said he read books “about how to have a ‘corrective and healing relationship with Jesus Christ’…I was confused about why these methods supposedly worked for others but not for me.”¹ 13 states have fully banned gay conversion therapy practices, however some parents in the other 37 states still send their children to them to prevent their child from becoming LGBTQ+ even though it was never scientifically proven that this worked or that it was safe.¹
There was an incredible lack of understanding about mental health during this time. Most people know now that poor mental health or being LGBTQ+ isn’t going to be cured by receiving heavy amounts of drugs, no matter how well-intentioned the doctors might be. Firstly, if people want to have improved mental health, they may need to take some medication but they also need to talk about their problems with a trained therapist. Secondly, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community isn’t curable and there should be absolutely no shame of being in it. In very rare cases, should a person go to an asylum.
While treatment is better now, the old taboo of discussing mental health has still partially remained, which could be why it is hard for those who have poor mental health or are part of the LGBTQ+ community to come forward.
Why People Hide from Mental Health
Science and psychology have matured significantly in the past 50 years¹. With developed psychology, people and psychologists learn more about the behavior of people and in this case why people bottle up their issues and why that isn’t good.
People can bottle up their emotions for many reasons but one of the most common reasons is because they are scared of how they will be viewed by their peers. Generally, people want to be liked and seek approval in different ways in order to be liked. If people think others might not accept them for something, they may hide their true feelings out of shame¹. The flaw with this method is that the longer they hold in their emotions, the easier it becomes that this turns into a severe issue. For example, if one chooses to hide a negative emotion such as anger or sadness, it may lead to more serious problems such as anxiety, depression, or even having suicidal thoughts¹. A study from the University of Texas in 2011 even found that suppressing our emotions actually makes them stronger¹.
Counseling is a helpful tool that should be used in these cases and patients should try to be as open and honest as possible so they can receive help. Counselors are obligated to not show judgement because one can only get help if the patient is willing to receive help and is comfortable with sharing their problem to the counselor¹. Everyone should see a counselor at least once to make sure that they are truthfully okay.
People born in the 50’s were typically raised by parents born in the 20’s during the asylum era of mental health. Consequently, they were likely to have been brought up to not talk about their mental health issues. When Baby Boomers were growing up, cognitive and behavioral science started expanding. Due to the multiple scientific findings, people started to take mental health issues more seriously. Nevertheless, when the Baby Boomers raised Gen X’ers, the topic of mental health still might not have been discussed because they didn’t really know how to discuss it. Finally, when Millennials were being raised, mental health issues started to become normalized to talk about, in part, because they grew up with the Internet and social media¹.
The Internet spreads awareness of issues and diversity of individual opinions likely grew during the time as well. The Millennials were the first generation to be raised with this. The Internet can make life better but can also make life complicated. It is good that people could finally discuss issues online (climate change, political injustice, etcetera) that another may not know much about, but what someone reads or sees on the Internet can also trigger another mental health issue.
Another link could be related to the exceptionally fast development of the world in the past 30 years, which is faster than many humans can deal with. For example, an issue that has become a much bigger problem in recent years is the massive amount of money that college costs. In addition, college has become more competitive. This can lead to problems of one not being able to find a job because the job market is so competitive, and employers want to hire people from “the best school” which also tend to be the most expensive¹.
These are some reasons why Millennials are known as “the anxiety generation”¹ because so many factors of modern life contribute to anxiety. This contributes to the 47% increase since 2013 of major-depression diagnoses (of Millennials)¹. This led to increased rates of suicide as well¹. Previous generations didn’t have to worry about this, but these are some issues that plague Millennials, GenZ’ers, and probably future generations as well.
As the Internet has been around for some time, Gen-Z’ers discuss their concerns more publicly¹. People know more about how those around them think. The normalization of mental health issues have progressed, but that doesn’t mean that it is easy for someone to come forward of their own issues and that they will be accepted by those around them. Not everyone will agree with another’s thoughts towards a specific subject, but on the condition that the thought is inoffensive to another person or community, if someone truly cares about the person they will respect their opinion/concern. Obviously this can be easier said than done, but people should care about their mental health first before caring about how others might perceive them.
Older generations say that Millennials and Gen Z’ers are weak because they were able to deal with their problems and downplay them¹. But in my opinion, Millennials and Gen Z’ers are stronger because it is harder to come forward with an issue rather than just hiding from it. Fighting battles is much harder than ignoring the problem and not doing anything about it. And, those who receive help will become stronger in the end as they defeated their problem.
Admitting one’s problems used to be socially unacceptable and still sometimes is, which is why some people may find it hard to confess certain issues to loved ones. If someone ever trusts you enough to confess a problem they have had, such as that they have poor mental health or that they are LGBTQ+, just accept them for who they are. Additionally, while mental health issues are taken more seriously, those who suffer from them might not already be taking care of themselves as their focus lies elsewhere. Incorporating mental health days into the school system provides as an opportunity for people to focus on mental health, and could be a beautiful stop to an issue plaguing society. School is not everything, take care of yourself. If you genuinely have worked hard on school and just need a break, the next time your parents tell you, “school comes first”, tell them, “no, mental health does.”
Subscripts in order:
Subscripts 2-4, 6-10: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/schools-now-letting-youths-stay-home-sick-for-mental-health-days/2019/10/21/15df339a-e93b-11e9-85c0-85a098e47b37_story.html
Subscripts 24-25: https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-mental-health-burnout-lonely-depressed-money-stress?r=US&IR=T#depression-is-on-the-rise-among-millennials-2
Pictures In Order:
Featured Image: https://youhaveacalling.com/positivity/the-11-habits-of-happy-people