With every passing year, society becomes more and more tuned in to the struggles of those suffering from mental illness. The halls of Olathe East are plastered with colorful posters urging people to receive help and displaying the phone numbers of suicide hotlines. The student body has lost people, and the loss shows. One in five kids from the age of 13 to 18 suffer from some sort of mental illness. With a head count of around two thousand students, this would mean approximately 400 kids within our walls cope with mental illness each day.
So if many kids suffer from mental illnesses why do we so rarely address this epidemic? Every year, lives are lost to suicide, yet the topic itself remains widely untouched.
As school psychologist, Abigail Gaghen, said “They’re just afraid to talk about it because, again, it just makes it seem like there is something wrong with them.” She believes that misconceptions, like being perceived as weak, can keep people from coming forward about their mental health. Mental illness exists, acknowledged or not, and keeping quiet doesn’t make the struggle less real.
“I think the more that people talk the better it’s going to be,” Gaghen said. Silence only encourages those who suffer to suffer alone. Mental illness is a problem and stigma only makes life more difficult for people to receive help. However, the more open we become about mental illness the better life will be for those who are mentally ill. Gaghen believes that social media’s growing awareness of suicide is creating a more mentally educated world.
“It is very typical and normal for people to struggle with their mental health– especially teenagers,” Gaghen said. She stressed how common the struggle really is, because mental illness shouldn’t be scary. Seeking help should be as common as mental illness itself. Normalizing this issue is a vital step in being able to grow and heal as a society.
However, before mental illness can be accepted by society the struggle needs to be understood.
According to Mayo Clinic, “Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior.” As a person’s condition worsens so does their ability to function.
Two common mental illnesses among teenagers are anxiety and depression. While some may be familiar with these illnesses due to personal experience, many only understand the very basics. Gaghen listed some common symptoms:
Depression: Anxiety: – Overwhelming feelings of sadness -Intense Worrying – Feeling like a burden -Panic Attacks – Loss of motivation -Restlessness – Pulling away socially -Rapid pulse/sweaty palms -Lack of interest in hobbies -Unwanted thoughts
“Lots of times teenagers will do things like taking risks and doing things that are dangerous in order to take just kind of their mind off what’s going on with them,” said Gaghen on the topic of bad coping strategies. She explained that mental health issues can lead to experimentation with alcohol or drugs as a way of self medicating. This only serves as a temporary way of numbing one’s self to their illness, but like in all things, putting off the issue only delays and worsens the consequences. These negative coping strategies are “red flags” to experts on mental health.
Good mental health on the other hand, is marked by finding healthy ways to manage symptoms.
Gaghen said that “Good mental health is seeking appropriate treatment… it’s about changing your life to learn to cope with these feelings through any time in your life.” While a mental illness may never be “cured,” with proper coping mechanisms life with mental illness can improve. Examples of mental growth include self care, therapy, and in some cases prescription medication.
“Mental health to me is just as important as physical health,” Gaghen said. Mental health, like physical health, is an ever changing path. Like any illness, it takes time to heal, but can’t improve without being cared for. Ignoring it is dangerous and can lead to long term problems.
Discussing, understanding, and identifying mental illnesses will pave the path for a safer society. The closer we get to awareness the farther we get from issues like self medicating and suicide.
Stressing the importance of good mental health is the key to a better, happier community, both within the walls of Olathe East and in the real world.
— Elizabeth Yost, Staff Writer