illustration by Coco DelVecchio
High school can be a challenge for everyone — the early mornings, late nights, rigorous tests, time consuming extracurriculars, social drama, and college applications, the list goes on. For many students, though, a far more serious stressor takes precedence: a mental illness. Few realize the prevalence of mental illness, yet is all some of us can think about.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in six youths, aged 6-17, are affected by a mental illness. Think about the size of North Allegheny, and then put this statistic into perspective. A graduating class is roughly 700 students. With this number in mind, around 117 students are likely affected by a mental illness in our graduating class. Among all four high school grades, 468 students are affected themselves. It’s likely that we see students every day who struggle, and it may be that even some of our closer friends or we ourselves can be counted among the statistics.
Then think about how many students are impacted by mental illness. How many students know someone who died of suicide, or has been in rehab, or has been diagnosed with a mental illness? The chances are high that every NASH student has been impacted by some form of a mental illness.
So why, if mental health is so prevalent, do students act so insensitively towards the subject?
Maybe the answer to my question is simple ignorance. The simple fact is that references to mental health diagnoses are thrown around negatively without any thought. We use exaggerated language in order to be ironic — and while we don’t mean exactly what we often say, we should stop and think before saying something that maybe truly hurtful to someone who suffers from problems that we may in fact not fully understand.
Saying “I’m going to kill myself” when the fries run out in the cafeteria might be funny to some, but not to all. We’ve all heard “I am so depressed today” or “My mom is so bipolar — she just flipped out on me” or “She is so psycho.”
In actuality, failing a test does not make one depressed; it makes one upset. A mom who sternly corrects her child is not bipolar.
Now, I know that often there is no malicious intent behind these phrases, but it is important to become aware of word choice. These phrases can be extremely hurtful to people who struggle with mental illness. For someone who struggles constantly with a mental illness, hearing “I am going to kill myself” sounds like mockery. Nobody would ever say, “You are cancer,” yet mental health is just as real as physical health issues.
I will admit that I have caught myself saying ignorant comments. I understand that when everyone is saying something it can be a challenge to refrain. However, such language is unacceptable, and we should do more to do check ourselves before uttering such words..
Catch yourself and make yourself aware of what comes out of your mouth. Think before you speak, because you never know who it is hurting.