Depression, anxiety, loneliness — these are the inner battles teenagers fight every day.
“We’re worried about so many things,” said Wellington High School junior Grace Broome. “We’re even worried about whether we’re not worrying enough about certain things.”
She was among the students calling Saturday for better mental health treatment and suicide prevention.
Broome serves as president of the Community Foundation of Lorain County’s Youth Fund advisory board and helped organize the 2018 Youth Summit at the New Russia Township lodge.
The event revealed a great deal about how high-schoolers wrestle with stress.
“Studies have shown that depression and anxiety in teenagers is increasing,” Broome said. “Many of us aren’t getting the help we need. Think of your own schools. Is there a student who’s commit suicide? Do you know anyone who has felt lonely? Our parents and teachers want to know how to help too.”
Activities for more than 160 teens in attendance included a presentation by Elizabeth Wolanski, child and adolescent services director for the Lorain County Board of Mental Health; student-only discussion groups; and talks about how easy it can be for mental health problems to go unnoticed.
A 2016 study sponsored by Communities That Care of Lorain County found that roughly a quarter of area students reported feeling “sad and hopeless” and 15 percent had thought about taking their own lives.
Wolanski discussed symptoms of mental health problems — especially how different they can look in adults and teenagers with the audience.
“It’s a big, big transition from high school to college and then from college into the adult world,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for self-discovery but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary. For some kids, depression is often misdiagnosed as oppositional defiant disorder. Pure restlessness and anxiety can easily be mistaken for ADHD. Stigmas and misconceptions regarding mental health have improved but they’re still there.”
Now in its second year, the first Youth Summit discussed systemic poverty and ways students could raise awareness for causes they care about.
Broome and fellow Youth Fund members Natalie Hall of Amherst Steele High School and Makayla Riggins of Oberlin High School have taken those lessons to heart.
After the summit concluded, the trio sat down to discuss factors they feel lead to mental health problems in their peers.
A lot of their stress comes down to jobs.
A generation ago, it was still possible to graduate from high school and find entry-level labor that paid a living wage. Today, students feel a heightened sense of desperation to find careers in a workforce limited by technology and overseas outsourcing.
“I think that has so much to do with it,” Riggins said. “There’s stories of people getting even a Ph.D and then still having to work at McDonald’s before maybe finding a decent job. So what’s the point of even trying if you’re still going to end up working at McDonald’s?”
“You really don’t know what’s going to happen after high school,” said Broome. “You have the stress of paying for college, deciding where to go, and times have changed. There’s a lot of issues with money.”
“We’re pressured to go into certain careers,” Hall said. “Whereas our parents and grandparents got to choose how they wanted to go about it and could easily find a manual labor job. Now many of us feel we can’t go into a field we’re passionate about because we won’t be able to find a job. That leads to stress because kids feel they’re going to be trapped in a field they don’t enjoy and don’t care about.”
During earlier student-led breakouts, discussion of the national March for Our Lives demonstrations in protest of gun violence could be overheard.
Broome, Riggins, and Hall shared their thoughts on the demonstrations, which were happening just as the summit commenced, as well as factors that have played into school shootings.
“Gun violence is both a cause and result of mental health problems,” said Broome. “But that doesn’t mean laws regarding guns have nothing to do with it. My friend brought up a really good point: Eventually, we’re going to be the ones making the decisions. I’m going to vote in the next election. We’re the ones afraid to go to school now and something has to change.”
“It doesn’t make any sense to tell us we’re too young to have a voice in this,” Riggins said. “The teenagers are the ones in the school getting shot. Of course they’re going to express their opinions. In many ways, the teens’ opinions are the most important because we’re affected the most.”
“I think it’s funny adults tell us our whole lives we’re special and we can change the world,” said Hall. “Then we get to high school, there’s a serious problem, and when we want to raise awareness and change something we’re told, ‘You’re too young to know anything.’ This is nerve-wracking for kids.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.