by Caroline Meister
Kids are sheltered. Adults paint them a pretty picture to blind them from the horrors of the world, the bad guys or situations that lurk in the shadows. Perhaps it’s necessary. It gives them a positive outlook on life and helps them when they encounter the negative aspects, but it’s slightly flawed logic.
When I entered my freshman year of high school, I was suddenly exposed to the awful side effects of mental illnesses. I watched these illnesses take over my friends completely. I saw the happiness sucked from their lives. I felt the distance they created from me and their other friends. I can’t begin to describe the pain I felt when my friends were struggling so deeply. Worse, I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help them. It was so intense for one of my friends that when I would text her and she didn’t respond, my thoughts jumped to the worst. Was she okay? Was she still alive?
It’s time to take a new approach to mental health education. Within the past decade, we’ve been making great strides internationally to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and decrease the stigma surrounding those who are not mentally stable. Anti-bullying campaigns are everywhere now, but mental health is more than not bullying. Yes, many mental health problems can stem from bullying or vice-versa; however, I personally feel that mental health issues are more prevalent in our society.
Throughout middle school and even my first two years of high school, we had countless assemblies about the dangers of bullying. Although I always found it an important issue, I didn’t witness a lot of bullying (not to say it didn’t exist). In my opinion, abuse was more prevalent, whether it was physical or emotional. Regardless, my junior year, it was apparent that mental health was a real issue. Many of my friends were suffering from anxiety or depression, whether they were diagnosed or not. That same year, a boy in my grade died by suicide.
I didn’t know him well, but he was in the marching band, and so was I. When I think back, I can remember his face among the kids on the drumline, but I never had a conversation with him. From what I can remember, he always seemed to be laughing and he had a large group of friends. As high school continued, I began to make friends in the same group as him. His funeral was one of the hardest days of my life.
I was sitting in band, fourth hour, and my band director and the drumline were leaving to perform at his funeral. One of my friends was in drumline, and I will never forget the look on her face as they filed out of the room. Some of them were crying, others looked furious, and some faces were just blank. How do you explain an event like this to a young person? It’s difficult, especially if this is the first shadow that’s crept into their lives. It’s not easy explaining the circumstances to a high schooler, let alone a child.
You explain suicide by creating mental health awareness in young people. You gradually build awareness as a parent, an administrator, or simply as a peer. An awareness that people can be sick mentally and not just physically. Informing them that the term “crazy” isn’t the best term for every situation and it creates stigma. Terms like that prevent people who are struggling to seek help. An awareness that sometimes being nice is the best thing you can do, no matter the circumstance. The majority of people agree education is important, but it needs to extend beyond our math books. Do not always steer away from the negative aspects of life because maybe if we chose not to ignore the bad, the good will find a way to shine through.
This blog post is dedicated to the Kroll family, friends, and the entire community of Zeeland, Michigan. I hope that this did him justice, and my thoughts are with you today and always.