Recently I had the pleasure of seeing Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway. The musical’s theme is centered around mental health issues such as depression and suicide. It is told in an all too realistic way that impacts not just teens but it also resonates with audiences of all ages. As we continue to acknowledge National Minority Health Awareness month, it is important to acknowledge the impact suicide has had and continues to have on children and young adults within communities of color. Hearing a child as young as 10 years old take their own life due to excessive bullying about their appearance is gut-wrenching, yet there are an increasing number of stories involving young children taking their own lives because they are ostracized for being different.
All too often there can be stressors that are placed on young adults and children. Those stressors increase tenfold for some minorities as it is compounded by their environments and lack of quality resources to address mental health and wellness.
We have all heard the term safe space. Schools used to be one of those places that children and teens could rely on as that haven, however, this is not always the case. Countless parents have complained that schools failed to notice when children are bullied. Failure to closely examine the repercussions often leads to tragic results such as someone taking their own life or inflicting pain on someone else.
There is a desperate need for schools, including colleges to have more resources for children and young adults. Schools teach health and physical education, but more needs to be done to normalize discussing your feelings. This can be supported both inside the classroom and outside of it as well. Schools often have a shortage of guidance counselors or mental health professionals with as many as thirty students or more per counselor. The complaint is that there are not nearly enough professionals present within educational institutions to identify a crisis, prevent one, or provide ongoing support. Dear Evan Hansen tells the story of a teen who essentially felt invisible all of his life until a chance encounter changed the trajectory of his life’s path. In our society, it can be easy for marginalized communities like minorities to feel lost or unseen, particularly when society places labels on us based on false perceptions, and stereotypes. More access is needed to intervene in situations where a child or adult feels lost and alone. As a society, we cannot keep ignoring the signals and signs of mental health issues. We cannot pacify those who partake in egregious and vicious behavior towards others in the form of bullying or harassment.
Instead of reacting after the catastrophic effects of depression such as suicide or mass shooting occurrences in our schools, we need to be proactive in intervening as soon as possible in an effort to prevent them from happening. Traditionally, we think of middle school as being the beginning of changing dynamics within socializing and being placed in social cliques, however, bullying and ostracizing can start much earlier. Unfortunately, the school community can miss important warning signs with many teachers already overburdened. The task has to be with trained professionals who can quickly identify and prevent bullying behavior by children who are exhibiting those tendencies. A counselor or trained professional can also provide guidance for all students which should be a part of general health education. All people, especially our children deserve to have an open space and safe haven for them to discuss their feelings and not feel alone if they cannot speak to their peers or family members.
Depression for some can start with feeling invisible and useless. Not everyone realizes that their very existence is important and that they are needed. Often having a dream or having an objective for your life can help to diminish the feeling of not being good enough. If every child was conditioned from the moment they enter a school environment to nourish their dreams and talents, this could help them not only build confidence but also strengthen a person’s self-worth. You often hear the medical community speak of statistics and causes of diseases or trends but not enough is done to shed light on resolutions and various preventative measures when it comes to depression and suicide prevention. Early intervention can be key and can help to treat certain issues before they manifest. More can be done to leverage the tools we know that work in improving healthy outcomes against the unhealthy determinants of health such as poverty, crime, and lack of health resources within some communities.
Infusing our school and work environments with mental health resources, encouraging talk therapy for all, and healthy diet and exercise are just an example of some tools that can change the trajectory for so many children and young adults. It is imperative to nurture and cultivate our children and young adults along their life journeys by implementing strategies and flexibilities they will need to not just survive but thrive. Early intervention is key and can be done by infusing our communities with resources. The goal should be to provide a seamless transition of resources for mental health within all facets of our communities from our schools, medical settings, and resource centers. It should be just as easy to find a place to express your feelings and seek help if needed as it is to buy the newest pair of sneakers!
Our children, teens, and young adults are our future. Everyone deserves to be healthy physically and mentally. Depression is an illness that does not deserve to be ignored and can occur at any age. We all need to make a commitment to help one another and check in from time to time by just asking the simple question, “Are you ok?” The answer to that question does not have to always be yes, but sometimes just by asking the question, and really listening to the response, you are allowing that person to express themselves. That very act of listening can be a lifesaving one for many. If you or someone you know needs to talk, you can reach out to some of the resources below and there are more that can be available to you by talking to your doctor or visiting your local health or medical clinic. Always remember, you are not alone, you do matter, and you are seen.
NY Project Hope
https://nyprojecthope.org/ , (844) 863-9314
CDC Resources on Mental Health
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline