When I tell people I work in psychiatry and the majority of my roughly 400ish patient caseload are teenagers…I usually am asked a bunch of questions. The people asking are usually adults over the age 35. And the majority of adults who lead up to “But why are kids so anxious these day? Or so depressed? In my day we didn’t have all this school avoidance and depression. It must be the social media.” Or something equally enlightening.
Now I am only speaking from my little corner of the world and it likely is not generalizable to the entire population of teenagers. But here’s why the kids I’ve sat with say they are anxious and depressed enough that I usually start an anti-depressant (while ensuring they are engaged in therapy because I am a firm believer in both therapy and medication working together).
“I’m scared I’m going to get killed.” “I’m scared of a school shooting.” “I’m scared I won’t see my Mom again.”
Really sit with that for a minute. Because it’s not uncommon for me to hear this. Kids are scared of going to school and being killed.
And why shouldn’t they be? What have we as a society done to reassure them that they won’t be? We’ve created active shooter drills where they hide in closets and crouch behind desks. How terrifying that must be to think the only thing between me and a bullet is this desk.
I graduated high school in 2003. 9/11 happened my sophomore year. I lived about ninety minutes from NYC. One of my classmates went home without a Father that day.
Aurora, Sandy Hook, Pulse, Parkland, etc.
When I looked up a list of school shootings since 2003- well there have been 36 in 2018. 36. Sit with that number.
How can we expect kids not to be anxious?
Everyone younger than I am has grown up in a time when school and mass shootings are accepted. Our society isn’t even shocked by them anymore. They make the news for a week max, then we move on with no change.
Sandy Hook- the gun laws in Connecticut are supposedly some of the strongest in the nation, and I can tell you they suck. They do not keep guns out of kid’s hands. As just last year there were two teenagers playing and one shot and killed the other one accidentally. Guns are still here, even in Connecticut where a classroom full of our babies were killed.
Then let’s talk about social media. There are articles about these shootings posted all the time. Articles about how are society is moving toward The Handmaid’s Tale style life because our administration sucks. Articles about missing children, sexual assault, not to mention actual discussion and cyber bullying with their peers.
Then there’s the percentage of my clients who have been sexually assaulted and have not told any one. Ever. Because they knew the perpetrator, perhaps a kid in school with them or worse a family member. It’s rampant.
Throw on the massive workload at school where they are forced to be glued to screens for hours a day, regular pressures of sports and college applications, identifying as lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender in a time when we have the most homophobic administration imaginable; and being the generation to look at possibly the highest college tuition fees in history…yeah I’d be anxious too.
Teenagers today are NOT like teenagers twenty or thirty years ago. So don’t compare them to yourself. They are facing more danger and more pressures than we could ever imagine.
I went to school when Columbine happened. I remember making plans in my head as to how I would hide or escape. But it never stopped me from going. I remember talking to friends about it, but we never thought it would actually happen at our school. Well it’s happening in real places and real people are dying.
Instead of asking why kids are anxious we should be asking how can we as the responsible and intelligent adults in our society help them be less anxious? How can we make them feel safer, supported, loved? And why haven’t we started to do this already?