More young people are seeking help for mental health issues, including thoughts of suicide.
In the year since it launched, Pennsylvania’s tip line for kids to report threats of school violence produced a bombshell: Most calls aren’t about potential school shooters, but teen mental illness.
The 40,382 anonymous tips received by the Safe2Say Something program were kids mostly concerned with other kids who seem troubled and clinically depressed. Some 6,487 were about potential suicide. That’s 16% — a lot.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the numbers this week.
“As I traveled across Pennsylvania to talk to students about Safe2Say, they weren’t peppering me on questions on school shooting drills or metal detectors. They were talking about fellow students who seemed depressed, came to school without lunch, and chronic online bullying,” he said.
Shapiro seemed surprised, but why? Nearly 50,000 suicides were recorded in the U.S. in 2017, and it is the second leading killer of people ages 10 to 24 in America. The leading cause of death among young people is drug overdoses. Some 70,000 died.
These are “diseases of despair,” and the plague kills more than 100,000 people a year, most of them under 40.
The fragile state of the mental health of millennials (those 24 to 38) is well reported.
What we have is a continuing plague of diseases of despair, a plague that has touched nearly every family in America, but one that our college-edumicated political class rarely if ever discusses, because they a) don’t care or b) have no remedy.
What’s causing widespread depression and nihilism among youngsters? Three observations from my turf in the middle class: Social media, pressure to go to college and apocalyptic predictions of the world’s end from climate change.
Of these, social media is 90% of the problem. Social media isolates. It’s also the greatest personal propaganda tool ever placed into the hands of ordinary people.
Whatever media platform one favors, the message is similar: “Look at me!”
People present themselves as happy, content, having a great life and grand time. They’re on vacation, posing with new car. There they are, all dolled up and headed to the prom or party. There’s passive-aggressive bragging, “Honored to be named …” or “Proud to learn I’ve been chosen as …”
They never display their reality, which is as crummy, if not crummier, than yours. They never show pics of the pile of dirty dishes in their sink from last night. The splotches of black mold in their shower tile grout. The unfinished DIY projects. Their yellow teeth, receding hair and expanding guts. Things ordinary mortals have in common.
The effect of all of this fake reality on youngsters who don’t know any better? Sadness, depression and despair. Online, everyone’s circumstances are better than one’s own.
If you’re 12, 13 or 14, social media makes it feel like you’re stuck in the dim basement, while listening to the music, laughter and chatter of the party upstairs.
The next source of despair is the incredible pressure for middle class kids to go to college.
Nearly the whole primary and secondary education system in the U.S. is rigged to pressure kids into college. College is seen as superior to the trades or starting a small business. But what happens when you get through it, are deeply in debt, and can’t get a job that pays a middle-class income? I don’t blame an underemployed college grad for feeling screwed. They were. How would you feel? Depressed, probably.
Then there is the steady drumbeat of doom, largely from the left in this country, about the apocalypse of climate change. Idling SUVs in Levittown are killing the planet. The most outrageous and false statement is that climate change will cause the world to end in 12 years.
Imagine you hear this from the time you’re a little kid, as today’s high schoolers in GenZ have. Even the Vatican fans the flames of this stuff. How would it make you feel? Terrified, maybe. Then depressed, maybe hopeless.
All of this in addition to the cultural hellscape we boomers and GenXers created for young people. The stresses endured from failed marriages and single parenthood, no religion, the push, push, push to succeed.
Mental health counselors in every school might help. Really, it starts at home. Making our homes and schools “social media-free zones” would be more effective. Plus, some truth-telling at home. I saw it coming years ago.
When my kids were little, I’d play a game with them at dinner or before they’d go to bed. Each of us would have to tell the others three good things that happened to them that day. There are 300 good things that happen every day to the average person, I’d say.
Soon, they began noticing the good things that happened. They noted them in memory, because they knew I’d expect a full report at the dinner table. Go to bed thinking about those three good things, I’d say, and you’ll have peaceful night’s sleep. That was my way of countering the negative nonsense that depresses so many today.
You can start the healing by declining to post your wonderful life on social media.
Some kid’s life may ride on it.
Contact JD Mullane at 215-949-5745 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.