Advice and Wellness

Mental Health: A Stigma to Break

Talking is something that teenagers do regularly, but why is it that when it comes to talking about their mental health issues they’re at a loss for words? Mental health is something that many of today’s teenagers deal with. According to healthychildren.org, nearly 1 in 3 teenagers will experience at least some anxiety. 

Fort Lauderdale High School Guidance Director Ms. Melinda McFadden agrees.

“Yes, I agree, more so now following the pandemic,” said Ms. McFadden. “Disruption of structure and isolation has created a lot of anxiety for people.”

It can be hard for some students to take the first step, which is to acknowledge the problem. This is more often than not caused by the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, mental illnesses, and therapy. Those who are struggling with their mental health may feel the need to keep their problems to themselves in fear of judgement and criticism. In order to make people feel that it is a safe space to talk about their issues, society needs to first abolish the stigma surrounding said issues. 

Fort Lauderdale High School student Kate Barrington (10) opened up about her struggles with mental health over the course of the pandemic. 

“Yes, I was afraid to open up,” Barrington shared. “Especially about my grades and how I was feeling behind. My mental health plummeted and it was a very sensitive topic for me to discuss; I was afraid of how others were going to react or think of me. I’m better now though. I’ve cut off the main source of my problems and learned to let things go when they need to go.” 

Much of  Barrington’s struggle was anxiety over her coursework.

“I never had my grades drop so low and I didn’t know what to do. I tried asking my teachers, family, and friends for help multiple times and no one assisted, it felt like no one was listening.” 

Fort Lauderdale Social Studies teacher Ms. Barbara Segal shared what precautions she takes to ensure that her students do not face mental strain regarding her assignments. 

“Everyone has had some experience with loss or illness and I think that it is the teacher’s role to exhibit compassion,” Ms. Segal stated. “I understand that students are not immune to depression or overwhelming anxiety, and as such, I have refrained from locking Canvas assignments. I also allow students to turn in their work late, without ramification. I feel that by doing this, students have flexibility.”

It can be understandably hard to cope with the stigma that surrounds the group that someone falls into, because it may feel that people’s perceptions on it are extremely stereotyped. Stigmas will not change overnight, but people can change their coping methods for mental health issues in a healthy way. 

On the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, nami.org, a contributor wrote:

“I fight stigma by not having stigma for myself—not hiding from this world in shame, but being a productive member of society. I volunteer at church, have friends, and I’m a peer mentor and a mom. I take my treatment seriously. I’m purpose driven and want to show others they can live a meaningful life even while battling [mental illness].” 

Above all, people should avoid isolating themselves from the people who care about them even if they fear how others will react to them speaking out about their struggles with mental health.  Anyone who is diagnosed with a mental illness should keep in mind that they are not just their mental illness, they are their own person.

Continue to speak out against the stigma surrounding anything that has to do with mental health! 

The world is capable of being ever-changing and this topic could always use more advocates, and hopefully someday in the future we can abolish that stigma so people feel more comfortable opening up about how they feel on the inside.

Finally, Ms. McFadden has some parting advice on how to begin de-stigmatizing mental health issues.

“Treat mental health as you would physical health because it’s all health. Speak as openly as you would about your mental health as your physical health. Ask for help and support others who ask for help, too. Educate yourself about others’ experiences and be comfortable educating others about your specific experience. Show compassion for others and most of all, show self-compassion and recognize when you are self-stigmatizing.”

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