Current social, extracurricular, and educational climates are stressful and harmful to our youth. This week’s guest blogger provides a heartfelt and insightful piece. -MWM
When I was a junior at the University of Minnesota, I struggled with depression and suicide. On the surface, nobody would would have guessed…I was going to school, had some good career prospects, a seemingly fulfilling social life…but I was silently suffering. And every day I contemplated whether or not continuing life was worth it.
It was a slow slip into this hole and I didn’t know what to do, I had never had these thoughts or feelings before, and I had never talked to anyone about them. (watch me explain more here in this TEDx talk)
It took me awhile to get professional help, but when I did, I realized I was not the only one. When telling my friends, I could only get about 2 or 3 sentences into my story before they would blurt out how much they were hurting too (nearly 1 in 3 college students meets the criteria for a diagnosable mental illness). So I started making videos about people sharing their mental health stories (now over 50,000 views!).
I realized there was something going on with young people as I was not the only one who felt this way.
Over the years, I’ve been fighting to de-stigmatize mental health and support by public speaking at high schools, churches, and other youth orgs. I volunteer as a peer-to-peer mental health group support leader for NAMIMN.org, and am developing ways for people to improve their mental and emotional health. Our latest project is called Marbles. It’s an iOS and android app for people to monitor mental health and find anonymous support, 100% troll and stigma-free.
Many of these anonymous posts and conversations have similar themes and come from people of all ages, but we know the average age of our users is around 24 years old.
What’s the bottom line? Overall, a lot of people feel worthless.
And…it’s not anyone’s fault.
It’s only our responsibility to reconcile. Below is a list of some reasons that a person, particularly a millennial young person, could feel worthless. At the end, I give a few tips as to how to overcome that sense of worthlessness:
An overemphasis on outcomes
The grade has become more important than learning how to learn or the score has become more important than how hard we try in the game.
We tie our sense of self-worth to our performance on tests, in games, our careers, relationships, everything. So, when we encounter inevitable failure, it’s crushing to our bubble-wrapped sense of value and self-worth instead of viewed as a learning opportunity from which to make better choices.
Thus, people avoid situations that could lead to failure and personal growth is inhibited. We are protected from failure in many ways by helicopter parents, more rules — across the board, school, politics, relationships, athletics, getting into college — there are just more written and unwritten rules for young people to abide by, and the stakes are way higher than they used to be.
Parents tried their best to help because they saw the stakes were now higher for their children, and like all things, this involvement is also double edged sword.
Too little has consequences and too much has consequences, and there’s never a correct amount. It’s only after someone crosses a line do they realize a line was crossed…and if you or they don’t cross the line, well then nobody knows where the line is! So please, forgive yourself.
The devaluation of hard work
People think it’s cool to be naturally gifted. The American Idol generation grew up celebrating people who seemingly out of nowhere become instant stars. And most American Idols never even amounted to that much! But that’s not what we saw growing up. We observed over the course of a 30 minute feel-good television program how problems arose, somebody apologized, and everybody was happy by 7:28pm.
Grit and resiliency were never celebrated. There was never a story about the person who studied for 2 hours every night for above average grades, it was all about the gifted athletes, socialites, and scholars who naturally rise to the top and overcome a miniscule bout with adversity.
Even “cool” kids in school were the ones who looked like they never did anything. As a high school senior I was embarrassed to say that I studied for my AP calculus 2 test because if I tied my friend’s score, but I admitted to him that I studied, that meant I was dummer…that I was less than him.
Worthy achievement seemed to be a mixture of good looks, perfect parents, supportive friends, and a quirky and inspiring mentor — none of which are actually accessible for an average 15 year old from Omaha!
But in these formative adolescent years, the messages of what it took to be successful, popular, and therefore worthy, were almost the complete antithesis of what it actually takes to have a fulfilling life.
The wrong goal
All this contributes to young people having the wrong goal, and we are still reconciling with this one. Never once did anyone tell me to seek out activities, hopefully one that pays you for it, that fulfill my life. The closest anyone came was “find something that makes you happy.”
Happiness is the wrong goal though because in happiness, there is no room for sadness, struggle, disgust, fear, hopelessness, failure, frustration, confusion, anger, and whatever else that are natural emotions we all feel.
We thought it wasn’t ok to feel bad.
So, we teach ourselves to emotionally inhibit, avoid, and numb ourselves from those emotions. How? Any distraction we can find — drugs (legal and illegal), alcohol, self-harm, suicide, social media, porn, gossip, bullying, achievement, etc.
We learned to push our own emotions, our own feeling interpretations from the world, away in favor of more “desireable ones.”
It’s been the deepest, darkest, and most hopeless times when I’ve realized what’s really inside me, others, and what’s important.
But it’s not a very fun commercial to watch Adam huddled in his room alone, tears streaming down his face, overwhelmed, thinking about dropping out, filled with guilt and shame.
No…meaningful progress and worthiness appears to be beautiful people cheersing outside on a sunny day.
Yes, that certainly can be what success looks like, but it’s about balance. All I’m saying here is we are out of balance. Too much of the aforementioned ingredients. Too much self-interest, not enough compassion.
Too much salt, not enough diversity. We may benefit from a little sweetness…some savory…maybe a hint of spice in our soup of life, our own personal marinade as my friend Kenny calls it.
What can we do about it?
It’s pretty simple, do all the usual stuff, spend time in nature, eat well, exercise, be with family, celebrate one another, forgive. And, get to know yourself.
Figure out what luggage you are bringing to the situation and relationship. Instead of focusing on other people’s luggage, get to know your own.
What’s the best way to recognize your luggage? Spend time with it, just it.
Sit in a quiet room, close your eyes, and listen to your thoughts. Some call it mindfulness, some call it meditation, call it what you want, just listen. Listen to the luggage of your thoughts.
Simply observe what happens. Continuously let go of the thought-creation side of you, just listen to the luggage of your thoughts…listen to which suitcases the thoughts are stored in.
And if you don’t know how to do that…maybe someone on Marbles does.
Part two of Adam’s blog will air next week. His post will enlighten us about his personal journey towards recovery.
About the Author:
Adam is an advocate for youth mental health support and understanding. His passion about mental health awareness led him to develop Marbles Inc., an Android/iPhone app that offers 24/7 peer-to-peer mental health support.