People often forget about this, but growing up is tough. Many will disagree, thinking that adulthood, with its own set of responsibilities and difficulties to be endured or solved, is tougher. But my intention is not to compare the two, as there’s no point in this. It is mainly a reminder that we tend to overlook the complexities involved in the emotions and conundrums that teens or young adults faced, because we forgot that everyone of us was once a bumbling, awkward youngster unsure of our place in the world.
Adolescence or early adulthood is a time of change, of frequent mood swings and ill-conceived ideas of rebellion. There’s the angst, and the nauseating feeling of possibility and impossibility colliding together. And then there’s the paradoxical desire to stand out amidst the crowd and be a unique individual, while having to fit in due to surrounding peer pressure. All of these uncertainties form a complicated period of our lives, and for some, this is a thrilling and exciting time, free to venture into a multitude of paths, forming and reforming their identities before settling down. But for others, this is a trying time.
Recently, there have been a slew of reports detailing the rising prevalence of mental illnesses, specifically depression, among teenagers. In the Malaysian context, FMT News (March 20th, 2018) reported that 0.45% out of 253,196 students suffered under depression, and the New Strait Times (April 24th, 2018) even reported that among children (5 to 15 years old), the prevalence of mental health problems can be as high as 12.1%.
This does not occur in a vacuum, and there are indeed significant signs of growth slowly coming to light in the recent years. The John Hopkins Health Review detailed a 37% growth in depression rates among adolescents between the years 2005 and 2014. But why aren’t we more vigilant about this before, and why only the recent interest in mental health issues in this demographic?
It is possible that only with the recent developments and the expansion of scope when it comes to the diagnosis of mental illnesses, have we started to be able to detect them in a more comprehensive fashion. But another probable cause of our previous negligence is the fact that we are so used to dismiss these potentially harmful issues into the collective dustbin that is “Oh, they are just teenagers being teenagers.” Previously, professionals were quick to dismiss mood disorders found in adolescents as part of their development process, and sometimes parents themselves are reluctant to acknowledge that something of a far more sinister nature is happening to their children.
While depression can be noticed more readily once we are able to accept the fact that they can occur in younger people, anxiety disorders present a much more complex problem, due to it being masked as their motivation to succeed or achieve something. And it is only when they escalated into more observable behaviors (such as self-harming behaviors, aka cutting, burning or striking themselves), that one is forced to confront with the problem, now looming large and unignorable. Hence, vigilance and the ability to discern between normal mood swings and disruptive episodes is vital.
Of course, the hyperconnectivity of our modern age has also exacerbated the issue through adding more amounts of pressure onto the youth to succeed or conform, not to mention the fact that cyberbullying with its perpetual and ever-present nature can also play a role in terrorizing them.
These issues will never be solved (or changed) overnight, and over the years, they might remain unsolvable. But acknowledgment can be a start, and a start is all we need right now. It is disheartening to see the adults around us continue on their tirade to discredit and criticize today’s youth as being too soft and easily depressed, when what they are suffering from can’t be easily dismissed as “just a stage”. It is far more than that, and we have to accept that.
This article is written with the intention to participate in this year’s World Mental Health Month’s theme: “Young People & Mental Health in a Changing World”. In conjunction with our participation in this event is us releasing our own T-Shirt (a collaboration with kkombii), a shirt that intends to bring out the message that it is okay for youngsters to be unique, to be their own selves, and to love and accept who they are without having to be afraid of the judgments of others. 5% of the selling price of the T-shirts will be donated to SOLS Health, another Malaysian mental health volunteer initiative that provides subsidized mental health services, while the remaining amount of the profit will be used in the maintenance of our Facebook Messenger Bot service, updating our current directory for mental health services, and improving the rest of its functions.
We hope you like this design, and you can pre-order using this link (http://bit.ly/bunictshirt). Limited stocks available. So grab them while you still can!
- FMT News (March 20th, 2018)
- New Strait Times (April 24th, 2018)
- Johns Hopkins Health Review (Fall/Winter 2017, Volume 4, Issue 2)
- World Health Organization, World Mental Health Day 2018 (10th October, 2018)