Last week I was invited to talk to a few high school health science classes about mental health. The teacher wanted her students to learn about mental health and I was so excited (and scared) to talk directly with students. I carefully created a PowerPoint to guide us through talking about current statistics on mental health and suicide in teens. We also looked into a few mental health disorders. I wanted to make sure students were aware of warning signs in friends or themselves and they would know what to do if they ever found themselves in a situation.
I was encouraged by the questions and participation of the students. They were grateful for the opportunity to discuss mental health openly. The teacher passed out note-cards if students had questions they wanted to ask anonymously. I have to admit I was a little nervous to pull out the note-cards. I was honest with the students and said if I didn’t know the answer I would let them know, find the answer later, and get it to the teacher to share with them.
Both classes were curious about the type of clients I saw when I was counselor. One question asked if I ever worked with someone “crazy.” I first explained the reason I don’t use the word crazy and how we can all be part of stopping the stigma around mental health. I then answered the heart of the question. I stated I had worked with individuals suffering with depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, narcissism…. I looked up and asked, “all the clients wanted the same thing, do you know what that was?” Many stated to get help, or to be happy. I responded “they all wanted to be understood and accepted for who they are.”
I paused for a minute and then stated it again:
They all wanted to be understood and accepted for who they are…. And the thing is, we can all offer that to our friends and family. We can each make a difference if we seek to understand others and accept them for who they are.
As I looked at the faces of the students, I saw a generation who deeply cares about the mental health of their peers in a way I have never seen. I saw a group of individuals tired of struggling with those who are older not helping them. I saw a group of people willing to talk about topics often glossed over by the “adults.”
During our conversation I explained how it is so much harder to be a teen now then when I was young. I explained when I do parent and teacher sessions, I let the adults know not to say… “well when I was teenager” or “just wait until you grow up.” A student in the front of the class looked shocked and said something under her breath. I asked is she wanted to share what she said. She responded, “thank you, someone finally said it.”
We have a group of teens more stressed than any other generation of teens. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for the age group and anxiety is the number one mental health condition…. and in the end they really only want one thing… they want to be understood and accepted for who they are… at this moment… not who they will be in the future… or if they make one more A…. or win a game…
I am fearful if we don’t start doing this one simple task, our teens will continue to suffer. You don’t need a PhD or special training to provide the one thing they need. So the next time you want to start judging or critiquing those “teenagers,” I encourage you to try to understand and accept them for who they are. It really might save a life, and in the end it is what we all want, what we all need.