According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 youth and young adults are living with mental illness. This equates to 20%, or in terms of our school, approximately 120 out of 600. Within our relatively short lives, we have seen the discussion of our mental health become increasingly common in daily conversation. In a free period, one might hear a student telling another about something profound their therapist told them. During lunch, a student may discuss how the recalibration of their prescription is helping them with a clearer worldview, or better state of mind. If you were to ask your parents about their experiences in school, the answer is most likely very different. According to Health Affairs, mental illness is better understood and less stigmatized, and services are more commonly used within the last 25 years. In our lifetimes, there has been a shift in the way we view and discuss mental health. The Dart staff agrees that the actions of one generation can transform the stigma surrounding mental health.
It is imperative to note that “one generation” does not imply that Generation Z must shoulder this burden alone. However, within the timespan of one generation (that being our own), this change is vast and continues to progress as we age. We must depend on resources such as mental health professionals, counselors and trusted adults as we explore what mental health means to us. It is necessary that we utilize this change in a manner that is productive and conducive to the progress of society at large.
We are the first generation to have spent our formative years with smart technology at our fingertips. We had iPads in middle school, and spent high school ranting about our days on “finstas.” We have access to the world in all its chaos and emotion. As a result, the discussion around mental health has become more accessible than ever. All one must do is post a tweet or send out a Snapchat story depicting how and why today made you feel like you were having a panic attack. This has sparked a hyper-awareness of mental health issues. While that can lead to discourse and destigmatization, it can be harmful to those grappling with their own mental health.
This discourse is helpful in destigmatization. By normalizing the conversation, it creates avenues for other young people to discuss their mental health. However, at times, the oversaturation of negative conversations involving mental health can be triggering. Being inundated with cries for help and shouts into the abyss can be harmful to anyone. However, when exacerbated by mental illness, an environment meant as a safe space can become toxic. Mental illness has become part of our daily lives, directly and indirectly. Being able to discuss these issues is a sign of progress, but we cannot stop there.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, contact a trusted adult to get the help you need. That could be a parent, teacher, principal, coach or counselor. You can reach the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. As a society, we have made great strides in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. However, there is work to be done in lessening that stigma in a way that helps those struggling.