It’s been a few months since I’ve felt true fear, which had come from the fact that one of my closest friends was on the verge of suicide. I can vividly recall the stark conversation we had over the phone, and the sense of bewilderment which overcame me as we spoke. I tried to understand, as best as I could, the despair he was feeling. He talked about a deep sense of aimlessness– how it was hard for him to find the motivation to do daily tasks. How his toxic family situation and his inability to focus in school caused him to feel trapped and hopeless. How he just wanted to escape.
The cause of his suffering can undoubtedly be attributed to depression. The NIH’s description of depression matched up with what my friend had gone through, that prolonged feeling of worthlessness and melancholy. It can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from traumatic events to existential boredom. Highly prevalent among teenagers, symptoms of depression are often misconstrued by adults as simply “regular adolescent behavior”. This leads to victims of depression not getting the help they need.
Common activities, which include binge-watching Netflix, frequent napping, and staying up late, are part of this larger issue which parents aren’t necessarily aware of. It’s been normalized to the point where teenagers themselves don’t recognize these behaviors as possible indicators of depression, because it’s so widespread. Furthermore, through my personal experience, I’ve seen how the usage of drugs has increased amongst teenagers, which is a clear sign of how coping mechanisms have evolved with the problem. The instant gratification is a relief, a chance for victims to escape the pain. Effectively, these behaviors perpetuate the problem, and their ubiquity leads to a lack of focus towards the issue.
I remember asking my friend why he never sought help, and he told me that he didn’t want his parents to know. It makes sense, because no parent wants to admit that their kid has mental health issues. My own parents have asked me whether I suffer from depression, and in hindsight I’ve never given them a straight answer. I know even though they have good intentions, they wouldn’t understand it. I don’t blame them. Especially with parents from the Eastern hemisphere, mental health issues are taboo. Vocalizing the fact that you may have issues with your mental health brings about gossip and strange looks. It’s simply not normalized.
This is the stigma that must be targeted. Generations of people have suffered in quiet. This is the generation that needs to bring about the change. It warms my heart to see the wide array of support groups around Fairfax County, as they’re an indicator of true solidarity. Remember to be there for your friends. Check up on them, tell them you care about them. It might save a life.