The Back to School Blues: Why Are So Many Highschoolers and College Students Depressed, Anxious and Suicidal?

For many, it’s back to school season and getting settled in now it’s September already! However, with the coming school year, many young people are facing all sorts of mental health issues at astounding rates! In fact, the level of problems facing today’s youth are almost unprecedented from past generations. Issues such as extreme anxiety, social phobias, depression and even suicidal thoughts are becoming more and more of a national concern for parents, educators, counselors, psychologists etc… The million dollar question is “Why?”.

Life isn’t always easy, and certainly isn’t fair in many cases! From bullying, to breakups, divorces to financial troubles, young people have a lot on their plate nationwide to contend with. This of course, is compounded with biological tendencies toward taking life’s trials with more struggle than stride. A chemical imbalance in the brain, or hormonal imbalance topped off with some life hardship can push many a solid person over the edge mentally! However, life has never been a cake walk for any generation.

In fact, historically, life for many was much harsher and unforgiving. Infant mortality rates were up, disease, extreme poverty, no safety nets, harsh and grueling working conditions and walking the tightrope between survival and death was much of reality for many families except the few privileged ones outside much of the working class. Think of many of our ancestors, dirt poor, or close to skirting the poverty line. Working on farms and factories for over 12+ hour days just to make ends meet or feed the family. Or going even more recently, what about all the young men and women who survived the depression, like my grandparents, or fought in WWII and helped the war effort back home? My grandmother didn’t have Skype or e-mail to stay in touch with my grandpa when he was off fighting! Only “snail mail” that took weeks to go back and forth and multiple years apart!

The point is, throughout history, many many people only dreamed of the comforts many of us take for granted, like the internet, financial stability, housing that isn’t a squalid tenement, minimum wages that aren’t pennies, labor laws to protect workers and children from exploitation. Not to mention all our cool and fancy technology to make our lives much easier than many of our grandparents had! We have social safety nets, charities, legislation, all to stop the injustices of the past. Contrary to what many young people believe, the gap between average blue collar people and the middle class is narrowing. We’re not in the depression of the 1930’s, we’re not in a major world war where you have to sacrifice and ration, and know all your male relatives, friends and neighbors who died. Or are forcibly drafted yourself! The world isn’t perfect, life isn’t all unicorns and rainbows now in the least. But compared to other eras, ours is one of much luxury and comfort. Even many of our poor have TV’s and internet and cars in America!

Despite all our progress though from the hardships our ancestors faced, where childhood wasn’t a thing really, and people couldn’t afford a youth, why are millennial young people getting depression and anxiety and becoming suicidal in record numbers? Yes, your breakup was devastating, but your beau didn’t die fighting in the War. Someone called you a “slut” online or in the hallway, but you weren’t driven out of town, disowned and forced to wear “the scarlet letter”! Your parents are going through financial hardship, but what about your grandmother having to drop out of school to work 12+ hours a day in a factory to feed the family of 8 children? Have student loans and debt? What about all your peers for whom college is only a pipe dream?

Even for less dire mental issues, or physical for that matter, I personally experienced my classmates in college cutting classes if they had the sniffles and whine to the health center to reduce their course load for the week! No one was being bullied, no one was in danger of losing their home, or disowned by their families. All of their upsets the whole year were due to relatively trivial incidents they blew out of proportion in their heads as “life altering”…

Even in high school and junior high, kids were on anti-anxiety meds and anti depression meds. The neurosis couldn’t go as far with the more structured environment there, but it certainly took off once the adults weren’t forcing them to keep up their schooling! My classmates were privileged to be in a school as nice as ours with the opportunities right outside our doors. However, they squandered and took for granted that all to whine and cry and tell themselves they couldn’t do it because they’re having a bad day, or have the sniffles! All while I’m sure their grandparents and ancestors didn’t have nearly the life they all had. Certainly mine on both sides didn’t. Mine had to work and didn’t go to college. My paternal grandmother had to drop out of high school! My great grandfather had to fight to keep my maternal grandmother in high school to graduate. And all the while, college was simply expected of me by my parents who went due to the sacrifices of their parents who didn’t have the opportunity. Why couldn’t my peers and classmates “fight” their own obstacles to get their butts to class each day across the street from their dorm rooms?

Image result for 1940's working girl When did this… Image result for sjw cartoon ben garrison become this?!

I think the reason for this unprecedented frequency of these issues has to do with the lack of resiliency many young people seem to show. The snowflake generation who is “triggered” at an opposing opinion in class, or the “microaggression” in the cafeteria cries at the drop of a hat over anything and makes it ten times its actual severity. Even older millennials, are guilty of this, not just teens and people in their twenties. The ones raising families, but whine and complain about actually raising their own children are rampant in the parenting magazines, while people in my grandparent’s generation took it all in stride and accepted it took extra work and sacrifice. What was once simply growing up is now “adulting”, with the implication it’s some extra-hard thing and they’re overgrown children playing “pretend” at growing up.

They say depression isn’t due to a lack of character to overcome it, but a chemical imbalance. If that’s the case then, other people in the past would have had it too, and yet, were they in their beds for weeks on end? Not going to school or work, not even grooming themselves??? There was no safety net to cry “mental illness” and take weeks off work and not provide in generations past! As for anxiety, I’m an anxious worry wart by nature, but I’ve never let it cripple me so bad I lost every opportunity given to me. I worry incessantly sometimes, obsess over things, but I’ve never cried victim over it!

Bullying is wrong, and always will be, but how you respond decides if the bullies win. Letting insults get to you, regardless now if online or not, only gives them more power. Killing yourself over them gives them the ultimate victory! Despite all the horrors of bullying today, many were bullied far worse before more anti-bullying measures were taken by schools for the better. My father was bullied relentlessly and the school blamed HIM for it and punished him! My grandmother, his mother, was bullied for being ethnic and a child of recent immigrants at the time by bigoted neighbors who called her as a child and young teen, horrible names and ethnic slurs. School was worse! And yet, neither ever thought suicide as the answer! They knew better things were ahead. If my grandmother could withstand ethnic slurs, taunting, by adults as well as her peers, being physically beaten, pushed, and even had her head smashed on her desk by a teacher in 6th grade, and not want to kill herself, why would our youth being called a “slut” online by a few malcontents trigger them to think it’s all over?

Look, no one is perfect. It’s okay to need help when you struggle, and it’s okay to struggle and lose some footing before regaining it. I’ve cried many times, gotten homesick, struggled with loss, worried my brains out, had sadder moods on occasion. However, the key is I’ve never cried helpless victim over it and did nothing to help myself. I went to class between my tears. I went and took my midterms in high school after my maternal grandmother died of a long illness and I got a nasty fever being weakened by my grief. So many others had it much worse than I did and yet they persisted in scenarios I honestly believe I couldn’t have taken so well. My ancestors, and many of my peers! I won’t condemn anyone for a chemical imbalance they were born with. I won’t say bullying is justified and you ought to “just suck it up”. But a bit of resilience and thicker skin doesn’t hurt while trying to fight your demons.

This epidemic of struggling youth in our schools and higher education is reflective of an attitude of victimhood and fragility! If our ancestors had our same conditions, yet soldiered on to productive lives, why can’t we? Let’s not clog and flood precious mental health resources with trivial 1st world problems!

Image result for sjw cartoon ben garrison

The New Slogan: We CAN’T do it!!!

6 thoughts on “The Back to School Blues: Why Are So Many Highschoolers and College Students Depressed, Anxious and Suicidal?

  1. People are held in adolescence longer too. It doesn’t help that kids are prevented from solving small problems in their own, parents are always expected to be close to make sure they aren’t hurt.

    Ad a result kids don’t learn to make unsupervised decisions that well. But more importantly they don’t learn the world doesn’t care that much about them in the long run.

    They aren’t owed marks due to attendance, or that job by applying etc. They have to work and even doing your best won’t guarantee success.

    Failure ain’t the end of the world and they need to learn to move on assess and do better in the future but don’t dwell in the past other than as a way to learn in how you handle the future.

    There will be much more to all the issues but many are an emotional seven year old in. A teenage or adult body

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think there is a combination of factors in play.

    First, in the past, there *was* mental illness. It just wasn’t diagnosed. After all, you have to know about something in order to diagnose it, and we really didn’t know much about mental health until relatively recently. However, depression, for example, was known. Churchill struggled with depression. He called it “the black dog”. As with any other condition, physical or mental, it can’t be diagnosed if we don’t know about it, or have ways to test for it. Then there is treatment. Interestingly, having a course of treatment often results in increased diagnosis and, in some cases, over-diagnosis.

    Second, our treatment of children has swung from one extreme to the other. Until the past hundred years or so (and still today, in some cultures), children were fully integrated into society, and there was no “adolescence.” Children were around adults and naturally wanted to emulate them, taking on responsibilities early on. They were contributing members of the household, and while the work was hard, because they were out there caring for livestock, working in the fields, or getting jobs, they knew what they were doing had value. They understood that their actions helped put food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads. Today, we have extended childhood, further and further. In the process, children are spending less time around adults in a “real world” manner, and a lot of what they are doing contributes nothing. It has no tangible meaning or value attached.

    And third, our attitude towards emotions has changed. Somewhere along the way, our emotions became pathologized. In the past, when people felt bad, no one really thought much of it. After all, we all feel bad at some point. Now, however, we’re somehow not supposed to ever feel bad. We must always have good feelings, and when we don’t, well, there’s something wrong with us and we must do something about it to “fix” it. Add in the self-esteem movement, where little Johnny or Jane must never be made to think they have failed or feel bad about anything, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Then it all just seems to feed on itself in a downward spiral, because when we aren’t allowing ourselves to feel these negative emotions, we are less able to cope with them when they inevitably happen, and on it goes. Today’s generation is the inevitable end result of this, and it has left them completely fragile and unable to cope with anything.

    So while it is certainly true that today’s generation (at least in our Western culture) has become such fragile snowflakes, this is a problem created by the previous generation, mostly through the public school system, which has long been used for social experimentation.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Very insightful! You make some really valid points! There are many factors at play and these are valid also. Yes, mental illness did exist, but how society accepted the debilitating behaviors did change drastically! I like your point about how we pathologize any negative emotion, our even normal behaviors such as active boys and ADHD public school diagnosis! I’ve never thought of that before so awesome insight!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes there is no doubt things are getting better especially in the rich western democracies. Steven Pinker gives us global evidence in his book
    ‘Enlightenment Now ‘ and even in very poor countries less people are destitute and starving. None the less the difference between the average worker in the rich western democracies and the world’s poorest is enormous. In India about twenty million have no toilets and millions live on less than $2 per day.

    Liked by 3 people

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