Speaking Up about Depression in High School: Silent Isn’t Better

Hooded Person By Guest Blogger Elizabeth Helen Spencer

In a recent NY Times Op-ed, two high school students discussed the censorship they faced when they tried to publish an article in their school’s newspaper. The article featured real stories of their classmates’ struggles with depression and other mental health issues, but the school principal feared that the students mentioned by name would regret or even possibly be harmed by their honesty.

As I read this article, I remembered my own experience of depression in high school, and how isolating it was. As the authors point out, “The feeling of being alone is closely linked to depression…no one afflicted with a mental illness should have to believe that it’s something he should feel obliged to hide in the first place.” High school is a time of great pressure: to fit in socially, excel academically, and commit to a plan for the future. In trying to do all of these things, teenagers often attempt to hide everything about themselves that seems odd, uncool, or shameful.

When I was a high school senior I felt like no one understood me. I had a few close friends who were also going through depression, but we were each on our own sinking ship and couldn’t offer that much help to each other. I felt like there was football field upon football field’s worth of distance between myself and the more popular, seemingly happy and successful kids. Although I’d been a good student most of my life, I wasn’t engaged with my classes anymore and I stayed home from school as often as I could get away with it. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in in college; I didn’t even want to go to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, only that I felt hopelessly miserable.

My parents were understandably frightened. They’d done their best for me and they couldn’t conceive of a post-high school life that didn’t involve college. So I went, but I only grew more depressed and dropped out in my second semester. Only then did I get the help I needed from therapy and medication. I also got a boring job at a store, and working there full-time convinced me after only a few months that I’d much rather be in school. Since then, my life has never moved forward in a straight line. There have been detours, setbacks, changed plans, and my depression recurs from time to time. But all of those deviations from “the plan” have been valuable. They’ve taught me important lessons, extended the scope of my compassion, given me humility.

I wish an honest article about depression had been published in my high school newspaper when I was a student. It would’ve helped me to know I wasn’t as alone as I thought. Censoring such an article now robs students of the chance to be empowered by telling their own stories, and to help others with their honesty. At a time when the pressure on high school students is higher than ever, it’s important that they and their parents are informed about depression and other mental health problems. There is no shame in being depressed; it’s not something to hide. Asking for help and taking time off when you need it doesn’t have to mess up your future. After all, a story of overcoming challenges always makes for a great college essay.

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