A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a youth think-tank session that involved moderating a table of about half-dozen Grade 12 students (hand-selected from different local schools) and presenting real-world challenges for students to brainstorm solutions for.
Naturally, mental illness is certainly a real-life factor that can prevent a successful outcome in life.
So my challenge to the students: The demands on the health care system to treat mental illness are growing rapidly. However, available resources are not keeping pace. For your generation (which I learned is “Generation Z”, apparently!), what can you do for yourself – your generation – to bridge this gap?
The students came up with some amazing ideas and practical initiatives which I will share in a later post.
For this post, I want to spotlight an incredible story shared by one of the students during our discussion and demonstrate not only the extent of pressures experienced by todays youths, but their degree of resilience when faced with crisis.
This is what she shared, paraphrased in the first-person narrative:
A friend of mine approached me in confidence one day and admitted to feeling suicidal. She told me not to tell anyone or say anything about it. She just needed to talk to someone. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want her to get mad at me for telling someone but I was scared for her. I felt I had to tell someone so I decided to do what felt right.
I told her parents.
She was so mad at me. And for five months, she wouldn’t talk to me or look at me for that matter. I felt really bad about it, wondering if I did the right thing. I never had to deal with something like this before.
And then one day, she came to talk to me. She thanked me (for saving her life).
When this student shared her story, I felt awestruck. My first thought was, there is no way someone so young should have to bear the burden of something like this. But the reality is, they do.
“Reality” for them is so much different than it was for me at that age. I never had to deal with things like social media pressures; cyber-bullying; the constant threat that whatever I say or do will be captured, uploaded and shared; over-bearing expectations from peers, parents, teachers; and so on.
And I never had to deal with the unimaginable burden of a friend confiding in me their urge to end their own life.
I met some incredible people around the table that day – people who are resilient, values-based and strong. I felt like I learned more from them then perhaps, they learned from me. I don’t know. But regardless, if these youths are any indication of where our society and (mental health) culture is heading, I am incredibly optimistic.