Argumentative Essay: Hiding in Your Own Shadows

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Madelyn Reilly, Student Contributor

Michelle Obama, health activist and former first lady, once stated “At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg, or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction”. Although a mental health issue may not seem as severe as cancer, a bacterial or viral disease, or a broken bone, it most definitely is in that it affects the way an individual acts and feels. Over the past few years, the number of teenagers that have a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety, has increased tremendously and these types of disorders have escalated to the point where teenagers are willing to end their own lives if it means escaping their misery. Suicides. Are. Real. Because mental health disorders are not as visible or easy to understand as other health problems, many adults do not know or realize that their child is suffering from this type of illness because the demon of depression engulfs them into a world of two behaviors and attitudes: one for when they are around friends and family to fake their happiness and interests, and one for when they are alone to be depressed and drowning in agony. In addition, threats or abusive comments from peers, social media, or even parents have triggered many adolescents to fall deeper into their depression causing a decline in school performance, lack of interest in activities that once made them happy, or even starvation or self abuse to fit social stereotypes; however, there are many ways to help detect signs of mental health issues and even suicide. Although many mental disorders can not be cured, it is important to help students return to normalcy by supporting mental health screening, focusing funds on school related facilities and sending students to local programs for help, decreasing use of social media and stereotypes, and avoiding the distribution of too much homework and too many responsibilities that cause students to become overwhelmed. Therefore, mental health issues within lives of students must be taken more seriously in communities and schools.

National Mental Health Screening

Many people believe that National Teen Screening is linked to drug companies that sell antidepressants and could lead to mandatory screening, causing more stress and anxiety among students from having to confront their issues and be pressured into non-voluntary activities; however, National Screening has the ability to detect mental health issues and identify risks early to prevent suicide or other tragic events. TeenScreen is a national mental health and suicide risk screening program where participants answer a questionnaire that deals with the most serious signs of suicide. After this stage, if students answered yes to a certain amount of questions, they move on to a face-to-face session where they are able to talk with a mental health professional to see if they are truly at risk. According to Leslie McGuire, director of TeenScreen, “…72 percent reported that their child was doing very well or showed significant improvement after participating in TeenScreen and seeing a mental health professional” (Choi). Because treating depression is so difficult, it is important to get students to get involved with this method. It is always voluntary and requires the consent of both the teen and the parent. Although this is not a medicine or quick fix to eliminate depression, it has the ability to detect early signs of a mental health illness and get adolescents involved with treatment programs and counseling before they acquire the thoughts of self-harm or suicide. In addition, having a mental health issue as a teenager can lead to consequences in the future and affect one’s choices and goals; for depression has the ability to swallow the hopes of a once cheerful youth. Eric Caine, co-director of the Center for the Study of Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester, stated “Five out of 10 of the leading causes of disability worldwide are significant mental health illnesses” (Choi). Not only does this show the overall effect that depression and anxiety can have on any individual’s well-being, but it explains the excess amounts of mental disabilities that could have been detected early on to prevent damage to adult lives. Through the help of TeenScreen, adolescents are able to overcome  issues that they might not even known they have. Mental health issues are more common than they seem, and they need to be cured in order to guarantee overall happiness and health. In fact, David Shaffer, adolescent psychiatrist at Columbia University, declared “If they can get help, their school attendance can go up, social relationships can improve, grades can get better, and they can feel happier” (Choi). Since thousands of students across the nation are struggling through the years that are said to be the most enjoyable, all communities should be willing to participate in anything that will help these adolescents discover their true selves once and for all.

Focusing the Importance of Funds

Surely, some say that there needs to be larger amounts of money raised for the promotion of treating mental health illnesses in schools so students have a more accessible way of getting themselves help. Nevertheless, schools should not be held accountable for the responsibility of curing psychological issues. To begin, there are many roles that schools need to play in the community that do not involve treating any medical or mental health issues. Howard Adelman, PhD, of the University of California Los Angeles Center for Mental Health in Schools, expressed “Education is the mission of schools, and school policymakers are quick to point this out when asked to do more, especially with respect to mental health” (Chamberlin). Although schools should be taking precautions to care for the mental issues and values of students, the main focus of schools should be to educate adolescents and prepare them for further education and careers. Local nurses and health offices are supported by public funds in many schools where students can go to if there is an emergency or if they are not feeling well; however, depression and anxiety are more serious issues that take time and certain methods of treatment that require the performance of certified professionals in the community. In addition, finding funds to support school clinics and health centers is very difficult because, according to Jamie Chamberlin, they are not always cost effective for long-term mental health disorders and can become a low priority if funding dries up. Although various hospitals and businesses prioritize health when it comes to funding, schools host many events, activities, and advancements that public and governmental funds need to support. Even if funding is abundant, most schools will use that money for things that support the majority of the students and staff, such as classroom utilities, sports equipment, or administration costs. In fact, Beth Warner, PhD certified psychologist of the University of Maryland, stated “Every year you have to reapply for funding and you wait on the edge of your seat to see what will happen” (Chamberlin). This not only illustrates the inconvenience of having to finance things that are unnecessary or do not apply to a large majority of students but shows how risky and improbable the chances are of getting the same funds every year. Although creating mental health clinics and paying experts may seem like the best use of funds for treating disorders, there are various techniques and programs that expand the progress of learning to the whole student body.

Decreasing Pressures of Social Media

The use of social media has heavily increased and has the ability to influence opinions of youth all over the world; moreover, social media is pressuring stereotypes onto teenagers and causing them to develop mental health disorders from lack of self-esteem and deteriorating confidence in oneself. In an article published by Lara Jakobsons, a PhD certified psychologist at NorthShore, she references a statistic according to a British Psychological Society which states that approximately 90 percent of teens are on social media. A majority of these teens are not only abusing the use of social media but are giving in to excessive amounts of time on their devices, which increases risk for lack of sleep, low self-esteem, and increased depression or anxiety. In fact, the more emotionally invested they are in one particular site or app, the more pressure and anxiety they may experience to be available and up-to-date at all times. Because cyberbullying has become so prevalent in today’s society, friends or even strangers have the ability to hide behind a screen and say things to discriminate or harass an individual that they do not have the courage to say face-to-face. Furthermore, Lara Jakobsons researched that numerous teens, especially girls, have the pressure to appear “perfect”, whether it be online or offline. There are so many invisible standards and stereotypes that teens feel the need to meet; however, after social comparison and jealousy over others, not achieving these standards can lead to self-doubt, hatred in one’s appearance, and heavy depressive feelings. In current times, the bulk of the knowledge that one learns comes from various types of media, whether it be from newspapers, television shows, movies, or books. When it comes to mental health illnesses, this is a problem because these types of issues are displayed so differently than they actually appear in real life. Kirstin Fawcett, contributor to US News and World Report, researched how media represents people with mental illnesses as being violent or criminal, childish or silly, that they look different than others, and most misinterpreted, that all mental disorders are the same. Because of these misconceptions, many teens suffering from a mental health illness often feel more offended and fall deeper into their miseries when people prejudge them based on what they think they know. Schools can help this issue by teaching students the real meaning and signs of a mental health illness and explaining how to treat and care for those who are coping with a psychological disorder. In addition, the responsibility of decreasing the use of social media and imposing positive attitudes and behaviors rather than bullying and discrimination needs to be enforced in schools. Although social media has given the population various ways of advancing learning and communication, people around the world need to focus on real life interactions and comforting those who need guidance instead of trying to become the online version of a “perfect person”.

Stress of Students from Being Over Scheduled

From school, to extracurriculars, to a part time job, to spending time with family, many teens have become so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of life that they do not have time to enjoy their teenage years and focus on keeping their own mental stability. Furthermore, students have an excess of obligations that are causing them to become so overwhelmed that they are developing mental health disorders. To begin, a large population of the youth gets so involved with things they are interested in or required to do that they forget how rushed and stressed they are all the time. According to Laci Talerico, author and nationally recognized teen advisor, “Many teens…are already living like adults, spreading themselves as thin as possible in order to be successful”. Although life seems to become more stressful as time and age progress, numerous teenagers are getting themselves into a situation where they are working to support themselves and are never in a perfect mental or physical state from lack of sleep and shortage of self-confidence. In addition, the pressure of college and future goals is causing so many students to use their high school years as a prep for college and a path towards becoming an adult rather than a time to be a teenager and have fun. Homework, tests, and projects have evolved into a way of acquiring as many points as possible to get the perfect grades and grade point average instead of actually learning and understanding the concepts and materials. Adding responsibilities onto the plate of life is like standing on a beach, while the tide comes higher and higher with each wave and trying to avoid getting washed away into sea. Because of these facts, depression and other mental health issues are developing in students, and they seem to be burning their candle on both ends; however, there are many ways to relieves stress and become refocused on what is important. The infographic to the right displays many common stressors and ways to cure them, such as getting organized and making a budget when financially stressed or prioritizing tasks when dealt a heavy workload (My Mental Health Day). Even though high school may seem like a time when one has to simply make it through each week and wish for the future, keeping the mind and body healthy by exercising, eating a balanced diet, staying organized and positive, and having trusted individuals to talk to can help one flourish each day and progress towards a balanced and successful lifestyle. Additionally, schools are able to decrease the stress of being overwhelmed by restricting useless busywork and giving homework and projects to better comprehend information that will help one expand their knowledge of tasks and application in the real world. In fact, New York University (NYU) composed a survey where about 48% of the students reported having at least three hours of homework per night (NYU Web Communications). Instead of straining teens to homework and focused attention for hours per night, schools should be creating programs and in class activities, such as mindfulness, reading time, or even music time, that help students just take a second to clear their brain, relax, and enjoy the moment. Overall, teens need more time to help keep themselves healthy and stay away from getting so overly stressed that they develop an illness that could linger with them into the future.

Although psychological disorders may not seem like something one can fix, by creating a community of supportive people and an environment where wounded individuals can be healed, mental health issues can be can be controlled by the amount of attention drawn to them. There are many things that schools can do, such as supporting National Teen Screening, destroying stereotypes in the minds of students, and teaching them the proper definitions and signs of mental health issues. On the contrary, schools should not be responsible for curing these illnesses because there are numerous clinics and programs that are locally available, and schools hold the high obligation of education. However, throughout the rest of your high school and further future, be aware that many people come with mental health issues that they can not change, and be sensitive to those hiding in their own shadows. Overall, Michelle Obama explained to the world that the origin of mental health problems is in the way we view them, but step by step, person by person, future by future, we can create a domino effect that will lead our nation into fighting for those who deserve a remarkable change in living.

Works Cited

Chamberlin, Jamie. “Schools Expand Mental Health Care.” Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association, 2009. Web.

Choi, Charles Q. “National Screening for Mental Illness in Teens Inspires Controversy.” Scientific American. Scientific American, 23 Jan. 2007. Web.

Fawcett, Kirstin. “How Mental Illness Is Misrepresented in the Media.” U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report, 16 Apr. 2015. Web.

Jakobsons, Lara J. “Social Health: Teenagers’ Mental Health and Social Health.” How Social Media Effects Teenagers’ Mental Health. North Shore University Health System, 25 Sept. 2017. Web.

My Mental Health Day. Mental Health Infographic. Pinterest. 2017.

NYU Web Communications. “NYU Study Examines Top High School Students’ Stress and Coping Mechanisms.” NYU. New York University, 11 Aug. 2015. Web.

Talerico, Laci. “Young and Stressed: Teens Balance Work, School and More.” Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 20 Feb. 2010. Web.