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Austin Scholar #14: Even If It's Not Your Kid...
Mental Health Awareness Month
Welcome to the Austin Scholar newsletter! To all of my new subscribers, I'm so excited and grateful that y'all are here! To all of my returning subscribers, welcome back, and thank you for the continued support.
Please forward this newsletter to other parents who want to learn ways to help make twelve years of school less painful and more fulfilling for their children.
This week from Austin Scholar…
My own experience struggling with mental health
Results from my survey on teenagers talking to their parents about mental health
The most important resources for mental health support
Last week, I completed my AP Language and Composition (I have so many blisters from writing) and AP Calc BC exams (If I see another integral I will throw my computer at a wall), and suddenly there are so many more hours in the day :) Now, all that’s left to do is to sit in my anxiety for three entire months until I find out how I did.
Speaking of anxiety, May is Mental Health Awareness Month so I thought it would be the perfect time for me to write a couple of newsletters (because there’s no way I could fit everything in one) on how teenagers think about mental health. These next few newsletters will contain data from a survey I sent out, information from certified psychologists, my own personal experiences, and sources to send to your kids.
Disclaimer: I am not a therapist. I am not saying I am a therapist. I am not diagnosing your children. My hope is to draw from my own experiences and the stories of my friends to give y’all a view into the darker parts of a teenager’s mind.
That said, regardless of what you take away from these next few newsletters, please remember to support your kids this month through studying, finals, and the end of school.
It is no secret that I’ve struggled with my mental health. After The Accounting Disaster of Sixth Grade, things started to go downhill.
It wasn’t just one thing that began this chain reaction. It was getting that B. It was people whom I loved moving away. It was being a middle schooler and switching best friends every week. It was biological imbalances in my brain. It was a bunch of little things that added up.
For me, it culminated into severe mental breakdowns, extremely unhealthy schoolwork habits, an inability to fall asleep, and constant all-or-nothing thoughts. Yeah, I really wasn’t doing too hot.
I have Apple Notes dating back to 2018 that are just thousands of words talking about how much I hated myself. When I was writing this, I tried to go back and find a quote to really capture how I felt, but after reading two sentences, I had to put my phone down and take a breather because of how emotionally charged and serious the words I wrote were. It was pretty bad.
I wasn’t sleeping, I was hurting myself, and I didn’t think anything was wrong.
Because of all of the school work I was doing to escape my thoughts, I was still getting good grades and meeting my goals. As long as I was still number one, there couldn’t be anything really wrong with me, right? And my parents hadn’t said anything to me, so I assumed what I was doing was normal.
Now, I love my parents, but they didn’t really support me in the way that I needed. When my mom thought I was acting a little off, she just handed me a book by Brene Brown about loving yourself. And my dad actually encouraged the long hours of extra homework, making sure to tell me about the kids in China who work harder than I do.
I was alone, overworked, and thought that what I was feeling was helping me do well in school.
All of this continued until the COVID quarantine happened, and then things got even worse. My thoughts got even darker and I felt empty all of the time. It was like I was just going through the motions, not really living, only surviving.
So yeah. For almost three years, because my struggle with my mental health was never noticed by my family or my school, I fought alone, waging a silent war against my own thoughts.
While eventually, in the summer of 2020, I began to get the help I needed through therapy and treatment, I spent three crucial years of my childhood miserable and in insurmountable pain. This should not be normal.
It should not be normal for teenagers to struggle to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It should not be normal for high schoolers to put all of their self-worth into their grades or Instagram likes. It should not be normal for my friends to hurt themselves so they can numb their pain. It should not be normal for us to hate who we are.
But it is. And parents: here is how you can help.
First off, before y’all start saying things like:
“It’s not my kid.”
“I would notice if something was up with my kid.”
“My kid would tell me if they were depressed.”
“Austin, you’re just being dramatic. My kid is fine.”
Have a look at these scientific, official statistics about mental health in teenagers.
Almost 20% of high school students seriously thought about attempting suicide in 2019.
3.2 million teenagers reported having at least one major depressive episode within a 12-month period.
1 in 7 teenagers will experience a mental health disorder
So maybe it’s not your kid, but it might be your kid’s best friend, or your best friend’s kid. It might not be your teen, but it could be your niece, nephew, or cousin. It might not be your oldest child, but it might be your youngest.
Mental health disorders affect millions of teenagers across the globe, so think for a moment before ignoring the importance of increasing worldwide awareness about identifying and treating mental health issues in today’s teens.
The idea all teenagers are angsty, tired, and sad has been cemented in today’s society, so when a teenager begins to show signs of depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, they are dismissed as emotional or dramatic.
To make sure I’m portraying multiple perspectives and not just my own, I sent out a survey to Alpha High students and asked them about their experiences with their parents and mental health.
Surprisingly, the idea that teenagers don’t want to talk to their parents about mental health issues was proven to be incorrect. Many of my classmates wrote that they “wish [they] could talk to [their] parents more about [their] feelings.”
Why don’t they, then? Why is it so hard for teenagers to talk to their parents?
Here are some of the responses I got to answer that question:
“My dad doesn’t believe in mental health.”
“My mom doesn’t really like who I am.”
“They don’t listen when I try to explain myself.”
“I told my dad that I had been feeling really sad… and he told me it was just hormones.”
“I had a mental breakdown in front of my parents and my dad told me I was overreacting.”
“My dad just starts yelling at me when I try to tell him that I’m struggling.”
It seems as though there is just a complete communication block between teenagers and parents in regards to mental health issues. Parents believe that their teen doesn’t want to talk to them, while teenagers feel like their parents don’t listen.
How can we fix this? How can we mend the communication bridge between teenagers and parents?
I’ll try to provide my answer in the rest of May’s newsletters. This week, I’ll finish this (really emotional) newsletter with sources for both you and your teenager to open a discussion around mental health.
Next week, I will outline conversation starters for parents to encourage communication. And the final week, I will answer FAQs from parents about specific, controversial, and complicated mental health topics, so message me if you want something answered.
The CDC wrote this article that provides mental health statistics in teenagers and action plans for schools, families, and healthcare providers.
Here is a list of mental health hotlines. While it might not be your kid, making these hotlines known can be the difference between life and death. Your teen might find themselves in a position where knowing who to call is what saves their friend’s life.
CNN wrote this article outlining how the pandemic drastically affected teenagers’ mental health–in a super negative way. Feelings of loneliness and hopelessness rose to 44% in teenagers because of the quarantine. Teens’ grades weren’t the only thing affected by life on Zoom.
This is a really great article that has a ton of resources for parents that explain teen mental health from the parents’ perspectives – which is what I can’t give you.
Here is a heartbreaking, emotional YouTube video of a TEDTalk that a teenager gave about her experiences with the lack of communication on mental health in society.
SAHM compiled a list of resources for parents with struggling adolescents. Again, many of these provide the adult point of view on supporting teens.
MindShift and InnerHour are two absolutely fantastic apps that help teens develop healthy coping mechanisms and encourage teenagers to recognize their emotions. Regardless of whether your child is struggling with mental health or not, these apps are a really great way to begin a theme of acceptance and safety concerning mental health.
Finally, this affirmations app is quite possibly the most valuable thing on my phone. The app sends a notification with a feel-good affirmation every hour, and it has seriously changed my life. Especially with finals and APs, getting a little notification telling me that “everything will be okay” has been incredible.
Thanks for reading. Go crush the week! See y'all on Wednesday.