As we begin a new month, April is abuzz with activity. From Poetry Month and Jazz Appreciation to baseball season and Stress Awareness, there’s a lot going on!
This week, I focused on Autism Awareness with the release of Sesame Street’s character — Julia, Maya Angelou’s birthday, opening day in baseball and the fact that Ella Fitzgerald is the featured musician for this year’s JAM (Jazz Appreciation Month). But there’s perhaps no more important message than that of the World Health Organization on Friday, because the theme of their 2017 campaign is preventing and treating depression.
Did you know that the leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds is suicide? This fact was brought home at the recent conference, “Transforming Lives: Overcoming Stigma in Mental Illness,” sponsored by our own Faith Connections at St. Thomas More Catholic Church this past Friday. What was especially poignant to me, as a former educator, were the four young women from East Chapel Hill High School who spoke with courage and conviction about their own journeys of encountering challenges with mental illness. Some of them dealt with issues of OCD, one is fighting an eating disorder and another is working to befriend the gremlins of anxiety — but you would never guess it. Each of them was beautifully poised and incredibly articulate.
I recently wrote in my quarterly newsletter about high-functioning depression, and I’d like to offer a highlight of that column here again today:
I have learned that “high-functioning depression” can masquerade in the least likely candidates. Candidates such as Amanda Leventhal, a college student at the University of Missouri, who lives an all-American fairy tale. She has had the courage to speak out about her mostly hidden journey, writing that we can often miss the overachievers: “We don’t see the student with the 4.0 GPA. We don’t see the student who’s active in choir and theater or a member of the National Honor Society. We don’t see the student who takes on leadership roles in a religious youth group.” Dr. Landau of Brown University understands the subtle symptoms of perfectionism that plague students like Amanda and coaches them to recognize that they are expert caretakers–of everyone but themselves.
Although I knew from other studies that young women tend to “internalize” their angst (vs. boys, who often “externalize” their frustration–) but recently heard about a study on NPR that depression among teen girls has risen substantiallysince 2011, partially due (researchers think) to pressures from social media. Of course this is not a gender-specific problem: the meeting I recently attended atFaith Connections in February highlighted the journey of a mother, Betsy Rhodes, who lost her (gregarious, talented) son to suicide. Her program, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is called “Talk Saves Lives.”
What is important about the WHO initiative and the young women at Faith Connections is that they are giving voice to this silent struggle, and helping us to reach out with compassion and courage.
Midst so much going on in April, let’s take some time to have a talk with our young people about their journey: the one who looks most “together” might be the one who needs you most of all.