STATISTICS, HELPFUL LINKS, TAKING ACTION
Anxiety & Depression Are Prevalent in Teens & Young Adults
This is an eye-opening article about depression in teens: Excerpts: In America today, high school and college students are five to eight times as likely to suffer from depressive symptoms as were teenagers 50 or 60 years ago, according to Psychology Today. Depression rates for adolescents are on the rise for a variety of reasons, according to Manpreet K. Singh, director of the Pediatric Mood Disorders Clinic and an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. “Some suggest it’s because children are more exposed to stress and childhood adversity, which has significant implications for how a child develops over time and can increase vulnerability for anxiety and depression and other problems down the line,” Singh said. “Other people suggest the role of family and media."
This ABC News article reports about a Northwestern University study regarding the increase of depression and anxiety in teens: The most likely culprit (of more depression and anxiety), the authors of the study write, is that changes in our cultural values are behind teens feeling more anxious, depressed, isolated, and stressed-out. "These results suggest that as American culture has increasingly valued extrinsic and self-centered goals such as money and status, while increasingly devaluing community, affiliation, and finding meaning in life, the mental health of American youth has suffered," the authors write.
This article from Today.com says that about one in five teens in the US suffers from a mental disorder severe enough to impact thier daily activities.
This report about a spike in teen suicides in Wisconsin is alarming, but it has some insightful thoughts and ideas.
My local newspaper, The News & Observer, published this excellent article about teen suicide and the stress in teens' lives. The reporter writes that about 20 percent of teens suffer from depression at some point during adolescence & that 8 percent of high school students have made a suicide attempt in the past 12 months.
The CDC report from 2011 says that: "Among young adults ages 15 to 24 years old, there are approximately 100-200 attempts for every completed suicide. In a 2011 nationally-representative sample of youth in grades 9-12, 8% of students reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months preceding the survey.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among
persons aged 15-24 years, the second among persons
aged 25-34 years, the fourth among person aged 35-54
years, and the eighth among person 55-64 years.
Among 15- to 24-year olds, suicide accounts for 20% of
all deaths annually."
Definitely something to be concerned
about . . .
When my son went through his anxiety, he let his teachers, coaches, and friends know that he was struggling with it. Not only did that help him in dealing with anxiety because he got the support of others, but it also meant that others who had not spoken out about their own similar problems, shared their struggles with him -- or their parents reached out to me. I was astonished and alarmed that so many young people were struggling with health issues involving brain chemistry. This is often called 'mental health', but that term has become stigmatized, so much so that people don't try to get help for such problems. So many things can affect the chemistry of the brain, including hormones, which teens have running rampant -- and lack of sleep. Don't get me started on the busy schedules of high school students. Surely, the lack of sleep they deal with has a detrimental effect on them -- from hours of homework to extracurricular activities to early morning school start times. High school students have to be more competitive than ever.
Here's an article about the struggle of colleges in keeping up with the mental health care needs of students (Feb., 2017)
In Emily Whitten's article about dark literature in high schools, Juli Slattery, co-author of Pulling Back the Shades, says there are factors among teens make them more at risk from dark stories: “The last area of the brain to fully mature is the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is used in decision making, weighing consequences and suppressing emotional and sexual urges. This is why even ‘good’ teens can be impulsive. … They can get lost in their own emotions and experiences without taking into consideration the larger truths around them.” Experts have said that teens act on whims sometimes; by nature, they don't think things through as adults might. Most teens have not built up that resilience that most adults have, so when adults wonder why can't a teen 'just get over' something, there are reasons - physical and psychological reasons -- that make it tougher for teens to let something go.
Above is a beautiful video featuring former Boston Red Sox pitcher John Trautwein speaking about his oldest son, Will, who took his life at the age of 16. Trautwein realized afterwards that his son had been suffering from depression. The organization Trautwein started, Will To Live, is geared toward teens and the concept of being TEAMMATES FOR LIFE. More about his website is at the bottom of this page.
This enlightening blog post is from someone who suffers from depression.
This video looks into the thoughts of someone who has depression.
An excellent Emmy-award-winning video from North Carolina State University in which 3 students who tried to commit suicide talk about their struggles. The first article discusses how the video came to be, and the second article details the Emmy award win. AMAZING VIDEO.
And this Stop the Stigma page of the NC State counseling office has tons of useful information.
In Naperville, IL, a high school student wrote a heartfelt letter to school administration and the community to ask for changes that would possibly relieve some stress/anxiety from teens.
And this petition is now on-line for people to sign in her support.
When I was in high school, math classes were my weakness. Writing was my forte, and luckily, I was admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- despite my below average math grades. I was there to pursue a journalism degree,not a calculus or chemistry degree. Nowadays, however, students have to be not just good -- but great -- at every subject. Whoops, two B's mean you don't get to go to the school you've wanted to go to -- you had to get all A's in advanced courses. Our economy and our competition have changed, and our young people have been told that to be successful they need Grade Point Averages over 4.0 and they have to take Advanced Placement courses and they have to dedicate a lot of their time to volunteering, and they have to have lots of extracurricular activities, etc., etc. There is very little down time to recharge, to gain a wider perspective, to take a breath. You have no idea how many teens are suffering from severe anxiety -- not just being uptight about a test but the kind of anxiety where you question the meaning of life, the kind of anxiety where your thoughts & concerns render you unable to function sometimes. These teens with these thoughts are all around you.
A terrific article by NBA basketball player Kevin Love about realizing that other people are all going through things. And article about NBA player Demar DeRozan whom Kevin Love credits with inspiring him to speak out in his own article above. A second article talks about DeRozan's amazement of the outpouring of support when he opened up about his struggles with depression. This video interview with DeRozan is awesome!
Nicole McCance, a Harvard-educated psychotherapist and Toronto-based mental health expert, says sleep is crucial to the healthy development of teens’ brains. In the last two years, she says she’s seen an increase in teens struggling with lack of sleep, and blames social media – with kids online until the wee hours of the night – for the increase.
“Social media puts pressure on teens to stay up late,” she says. “You’re the unpopular one if you end the chat online to go to bed. Almost all my teens are up until 1 a.m., and then they have school the next morning. Some of my patients will get up in the middle of the night to check texts they’ve missed. They have this sense that if they don’t weigh in, they’re missing out.”But lack of sleep, McCance says, leads to lack of motivation and difficulting concentrating, which can exacerbate depression.“Sleep deprivation causes negative thinking. And it’s hard for teens to get out of it, because their body is so tired. It also causes irritability, which parents often attribute to just being a teen and hormonal. Lack of sleep – or no gas in the tank – wears the body down, contributing to depression, sadness, and a general lack of interest in life,” she says.
Then there's this comment from an article: "To get into a good college, it's not enough to be an A student," says Dr. Lisa Shives, M.D., the medical director of Northshore Sleep Medicine, in Evanston, Illinois. "You've got to play football and be captain of the chess team, too."
And yet another great video of a speech by John Trautwein of the Will To Live Foundation:
Still more articles about the mental health of young people:
This one in New York Magazine looks at the anxiety/depression increase in American teens.
Time did two articles in the fall of '16 about the rise in depression and anxiety among teens, complete with interesting videos. The first article examines how teens are overwhelmed with mental health issues. The second article continues this in-depth examination. One of the teens featured in this article produced a short movie about anxiety called, The Road Back. Watch it here.
This TV interview with a Utah mom of a teen who committed suicide focuses on how parents and adults should respond to teen anxiety and depression.
An article written by a mom about the night her son tried to commit suicide, accompanied by a speech made by her son about his unsuccessful attempt at completing suicide.
Fabulous article written by a girl struggling with anxiety/depression who writes this to others who are also struggling.
An insightful list of signs of anxiety in young children.
This link used to contain all 3 letters Patrick left behind, but the author deleted them.
A Written Response about Patrick's Suicide
relaying how she tries to take pressure off of her kids
"In such depression, gifted children typically try to find some sense of meaning, some anchor point which they can grasp to pull themselves out of the mire of "unfairness." Often, though, the more they try to pull themselves out, the more they become acutely aware that their life is finite and brief, that they are alone and are only one very small organism in a quite large world, and that there is a frightening freedom regarding how one chooses to live one's life. It is at this point that they question life's meaning and ask, "Is this all there is to life? Is there not ultimate meaning? Does life only have meaning if I give it meaning? I am a small, insignificant organism who is alone in an absurd, arbitrary and capricious world where my life can have little impact, and then I die. Is this all there is?"
Such concerns are not too surprising in thoughtful adults who are going through mid-life crises. However, it is a matter of great concern when these existential questions are foremost in the mind of a twelve or fifteen year old. Such existential depressions deserve careful attention, since they can be precursors to suicide."
The Atlantic published this insightful article about expectations and information overload. Excerpts:
“With the rise in the digital world, kids very often feel rushed and pressured,” Bradley said. “There’s a lot of info, a lot to learn, a lot to know.” More than information overload, Amber Lutz, counselor at Kirkwood High School in St. Louis, said “high performance expectations” surrounding school and sports often result in stress and, in turn, anxiety. As top-tier universities increase in both price and selectivity each year, students tell Lutz they feel more pressure to perform. Sevier attributed colleges’ rising selectivity as a cause of teens’ anxiety today as well.
“The competition and pressure on kids have really increased,” Sevier said. “There seems to be a belief that there are certain courses that are the ‘right’ ones to take. Getting the ‘right’ grade in those classes leads to the potential of getting into the ‘right’ college or university. Many of those ‘right’ schools have stiff admission requirements. Students are challenged to take a demanding course of study, to get a high GPA and gain admission into those schools. So many times, if they are denied, students take it as a personal failure. School is more challenging, the stakes seem to be higher, and pressure is alive and well.”
Sevier said that the increased amount of testing teenagers face today, including the SAT, SAT Subject tests, PSAT, ACT, IB, and AP exams, additionally contribute to stress and anxiety. And over-commitment, between school, sports, a social life, and family obligations, becomes a balancing act that students can have trouble dealing with, Sevier said.
Cindy Zellefrow, a nurse at South-Western City Schools in Grove City, Ohio, has not only seen the number of these cases multiply, but said their severity has increased as well. While Zellefrow said she usually sees three to five suicidal kids each year, during the 2013-2014 school year she said she treated 12 students whose anxiety was causing suicidal thoughts.
Grownandflown, a website for parents whose children are grown and out of the house or near that point (high school/college age), has this article that provides excellent tips on how parents can alleviate teen stress.
Grownandflown also offers excellent insights and advice from an 11th grade teacher (and mom) about how to survive the junior year of high school. I love the title --- "March of he Juniors".
Stressful events either in one's personal life or in the world in general can trigger episodes of depression and anxiety. Reading a book that has an impact can be considered a possible 'trigger'. USA Today published an article after the suicide of Robin Williams in 2014 and how that event triggered an influx of calls to suicide hotlines. "Triggers" are very real, big or small, and we have to be aware of this in our high schools. Teachers and coaches are on the front lines with the students, and they need to be there to provide support and understanding.
Myths & Facts About Mental Health from
the NC State University Stop the Stigma site
Myth: “If you have a mental illness, you can will it away or wait it out. ”
Fact: A serious mental illness cannot be willed away or ignored. It takes courage to seek professional help. Depression and other mental illness results from changes in brain chemistry or functioning, and medication and/or psychotherapy often help people to recover.
Myth: “People with a severe mental illness, such as bipolar, autism or schizophrenia, are usually dangerous and violent.”
Fact: Research shows that the incidence of violence in people who have a mental illness is not significantly higher than it is in the general population.
Myth: “I can’t do anything for someone with mental health needs.”
Fact: You can do a lot, starting with the way you act and how you speak. You can nurture an environment that builds on people’s strengths and promotes good mental health.
Myth: “ Mental illnesses are brought on by a weakness of character.”
Fact: Mental illnesses are a product of the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors often beyond an individual’s control.
Myth: “Mental illness is no longer stigmatized in society.”
Fact: Mental illness on college campuses is still stigmatized. Education, outreach and compassion can help us change the culture at NC State.
School shootings and other public shootings are, unfortunately, becoming more commonplace. These shootings are almost always carried out by men -- particularly young men. This is a great article about the emotional health of men and how we can make it better by redefining manhood (there is also a link to a terrific documentary called The Mask You Live In).
What Do We Do About It??
We need to do research (surveys about increased anxiety in teens for psychologists and psychiatrists to complete – although lots of teens don’t go to these medical professionals due to stigma and cost). We need to write our local school boards and state & federal education organizations to let them know of our concern. We need to unite parents – and teachers & students – behind this cause (by contacting PTAs, etc.) We need to suggest some uplifting literature to include on reading lists. We need to go to the media (press releases, PSAs, etc.) with our message. We need to try to change the culture of pressure and bleakness. Quite simply, we need to save our teenagers.
Contact your local school boards and get the names of the curriculum administrators. Then contact those people with your concerns. Here is a list of state boards of education contacts.
Contact the English department heads at your local schools. Send them a link to this site and ask them if they think English classes can provide more uplifting literature. Ask them for their input in developing reading lists that include more uplifting literature.
Contact your local universities or the schools where your children attend and let the health departments know of your concern. Also ask about the curriculum of freshman English courses to see if the assigned readings are all bleak -- or if there is a better balance, with some readings being uplifting.
The Parent/Teacher Associations are very active and have a huge impact in our schools. Contact the National PTA organization
Here's a list of state PTA organizations by state. Contact the staff and officers from your state and let them know your concerns about too much depressing literature in English classes.
Contact the National Association of School Counselors here; often it's better to contact someone locally, so here is a link for each state's organization of school counselors.
Contact other organizations about your concerns, such as the National Council of Teachers of English. To contact the NCTE, go here https://secure.ncte.org/forms/contactus
Contact the College Board since that organization drives what novels are tested on the AP Language Arts Exam. Click here for a link to its contact page. Let them know our concerns about the depressing reading that is covered in the AP course. David Coleman has been the CEO of the College Board since 2012. Prior to that he worked with Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit that played a leading role in establishing the Common Core. The website has no direct contact info for any of its leadership people. The College Board also has regional offices.
Contact your local and national media and let them know of your concerns; send them a link to the UPLIT site.
Talk with your own teens about this issue.
Help change the culture in our society about success in high school. Here is a terrific article called "All AP? Not for Me! Why Gifted Students Shouldn't Take the Highest Level Classes" by Christopher Taibbi. This is part of what causes the stress, folks. Here is an excerpt followed by some comments that were posted after the article:
Should her gifted child be required to take the highest level classes simply because he can?
My answer is no. For all the reasons that gifted students might typically be drawn to take the highest level classes offered, I would argue this: Just because he can, doesn't necessarily mean he should.
Just as gifted students might often be highly academically motivated, they might just as often be like anyone else in the world: they might have an area of interest outside of what is offered in the typical AP-level class curriculum. Academically speaking, Bill loves computer science and is talented enough to take AP English; Sara loves Spanish and has the chops to take the highest level calculus class. But Bill, I know, also really enjoys playing guitar with his friends after school and, given his druthers, would love to spend more time working on a playlist with them than revising his essay for me one more time. Similarly, Sara would rather spend more time practicing for her solo in the upcoming musical than working the extra fifteen problems her math teacher requires in preparation for that impending AP test. For Bill and Sara, computer science/guitar, Spanish/acting are much more akin to a passion than AP English or calculus ever could be. And therein lies the rub.
The fact is these students are stuck in a situation that most adults, frankly, would avoid: they are denying themselves something that brings them genuine, wholesome joy in exchange for drudgery.
Comments after article:
Submitted by Anonymous on January 16, 2012 - 2:45pm
One word: burnout. I wish my parents had this article when I was in HS. I was so burned out on academics from all the AP classes that I had no interest in (with the exception like Bill: my AP comp. sci. class.) So, when I got into college, I just said "Screw it, I'm taking the easiest major that I have an interest in."
Submitted by Lisa on January 30, 2012 - 2:28pm
My son is currently taking two AP classes and several accelerated classes. I thought he should step down on the AP US History (APUSH) since it takes so much of his time (more than anything else!), he'll never pursue this as a career and he's really not that interested. He feels pressured to take APUSH to maintain his class standing - - all in the name of getting into a good college (which I think he'll do no matter what). He said, 'the top 15 kids are taking APUSH, so I have to.' Unfortunately, this is what the high school culture is like now. Kids are taking PSATs in middle school! The pressure is insane - - and it's not always the parents.
You are so right about the pressure being pushed into younger grades. The kids feel it themselves. Many other articles about the state of current teen psychology and education support your claims.
Submitted by M on January 31, 2012 - 5:57am
I totally agree with Lisa on the fact that the culture pushes many kids more than the parents. My son is well aware that he would like more time for his music, his political activism and his writing. He is also aware of what colleges say: "We don't need you to take too many APS...but we are looking for you to take the most rigorous curriculum you can...". They speak out of both sides of their mouths and smart kids GET that. They want the kids to take all APs, get 5s even in those they don't necessarily like, write an opera and look at the clouds on the side. It is an untenable position.
I went to a panel of faculty from my elite alma mater a few years ago and they encouraged kids to take gap years because they are all too stressed out from this process once they get to freshman year. They end up either stressed or partying ALOT. But I also went to an admissions talk from that school. The gap year idea is great, but what about letting kids enjoy high school for 3 or 4 years so they don't NEED a gap year? Colleges could do alot to alleviate this miserable condition among the best and the brightest.
Thanks for the great article.I have read it a few times and now I have sent it to my son with the note "great questions to ponder". Not answers, but good deep questions for a kid who wants to do it all...and have balance.
Submitted by Marianne on January 31, 2012 - 8:14am
I hope parents will be swayed by Taibbi's article enough to have the courage to back off from over-pressuring their kids. Great article!
This is a culture change we really need, and it has to start at home, if your schools are as hard-driving as ours, which means that school administrations are pressuring our kids as much or more than we parents are. I'm sure the College Board is laughing all the way to the bank (even if they ARE nonprofit) as everyone tries to game the system--their system
Taibbi is right on the mark; AP should be reserved for students with passion for the subject or insatiable drive to learn. My son wisely chose to sta.y out of AP Engl Lang this year because he heard it was tedious, and while he could have aced it, it would have driven him nuts. I had to squelch the part of me that was disappointed and trust his judgment. He's focusing instead on AP history classes and enjoying them very much, and he's had a pretty happy year overall.
And an excellent response to this article too.
A personal quote from me: I've always liked the song, "Jack & Diane" by John Cougar Mellencamp because it is so catchy. But the chorus of it has always bothered me because I think, chillingly, it hits exactly part of the problem with some teens and their stuggles in life. The lyrics are, "Oh yeah, Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone." This is a very sad statement, but if people don't have hope, it they have nothing to look forward to, then I'm afraid the excitement of life does go away. That's why it's important that teens identify gifts and passions and pursue those rather than trying to be good in everything. That's why people in poverty need to discover opportunity.
And here is the story of Madison Halleran, a college student at the University of Pennsylvania, who committed suicide, followed by something her friends posted that shows 'happy' photos of themselves on Facebook with the line underneath it of what they were really thinking at the time, the true story. They wanted to do this because teens and college students look at the social media of others and think that everything is perfect in the world of others -- when it's really not. There is now a book about Madison's story.
Resources to deal with the lack of hope:
http://www.adaa.org/ The Anxiety and Depression Association
Text “Connect” to 741741 or visit www.crisistextline.org
former Boston Red Sox pitcher John Trautwein's website in memory and honor of his oldest son, Will, who took his life at the age of 16. This organization is geared toward teens and the concept of being TEAMMATES FOR LIFE. I had the honor of helpilng John edit his book, My Living Will, a heart wrenching but beautiful story of Will's death and his life -- as well as John's response to the death. The family started an organization to combat teen suicides. Also see the Will to Live Facebook page
A site to support LGBTQ teens
Another former major league pitcher, Dave Dravecky, started an organization to help those who are depressed. He did this along with his wife after he was diagnosed with cancer and had his arm amputated. At the request of one of our church ministers, this organization sent my son encouraging books and messages during his severe anxiety struggles.
Here is a list of organizations that help with suicide prevention and mental health.
More Than Sad is the Suicide Prevention Education for Teachers and Other School Personnel -- teaches those who work in the schools about teen suicide and how they can help to prevent it.