As a society, we have a thing for contradicting ourselves; we worship the “behind closed doors” policy but nothing is as glorious as gossip. This paradoxical thinking stems from where our traditional culture collided with our cultural ideologies; the result? An almost constant state of denying anything and everything that is not deemed “normal”, as if pretending that thing does not exist will make it go away. As teenagers, going through certain “abnormal” things – which just so happen to be products of said cultural schism – we are not acknowledged. Anything that’s weird or new or different is either brushed under the rug, “beaten out” of us, or our personal favorite and most common, neglected.
Nothing is more terrifying than battling your own mind. Nothing is more despairing than not having that battle acknowledged by a friend – let alone family. Mental illness is not a joke. When your daughter tells you she throws up and hyperventilates before an exam that’s not “just exam nerves”. When your son tells you he can’t get out of his bed, he’s not “being lazy”. When your child has some pretty violent mood-swings, they aren’t going through a “phase” and it’s not a side effect of your female child’s period. When your daughter pulls the hair of her head out with a tweezer one hair at a time, that’s not normal. Treat your child, take them to a psychologist, talk to them, and ask them what’s wrong. Think twice and even thrice before you undermine their issues, because if you did, that will only make everything worse. We asked some clinically diagnosed mentally ill teenagers about what they wished their parents acknowledged, so without further ado; these are their responses.
“I wish my parents acknowledged that when I say I’m tired, I actually am tired. My mental illness is not just in my head; it affects my body too, and I wish they’d realize that.” – H, 18.
“I’m diagnosed with social and general anxiety. My parents don’t know about my condition. I claim to be going out and my friend’s mom books my therapy sessions and I pay for them from my allowance. However, I wish someone would notice that something isn’t right. Social Anxiety especially is hard because you’re prone to overthinking and shutting people out, and you can hide it very well. I have a lot of friends and I go out but I am terrified of social gatherings with people I don’t know and I never trust anyone and no one knows anything about me. You feel like you’re weird and trapped out of everything and it hurts a lot. A lot of people with SAD (social anxiety disorder) have depression, but I haven’t been diagnosed with it despite still feeling melancholic often” – Anonymous, 14.
“I have trichotillomania and anxiety. I wish my parents acknowledged it as a mental illness, because when my mum found out she literally caught me in action pulling out hair with a tweezer to ease out my anxiety. But instead of helping me stop and asking me why I did it, she told me to do it in the form of a command. She treated it as a scratch instead of a deep wound that needed to heal with time, and so the wound keeps opening up again that I’m starting to think it’ll never heal. I just wished that maybe if she ever finds out like she did, she would support me and help me, but she did the exact opposite.” – R, 16
“I was diagnosed with 4 disorders (Anxiety, Severe Depression, Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder). I wish they would just admit that mental illness is as dangerous as physical illness. Also, I wish they knew that it was dead serious and that it wasn’t just a “bad day” as they used to say. If only they noticed the signs that I gave them but no, they were blinded by the stigma surrounding mental illness. What would really help me to feel better is being able to talk about my mental illness with no shame; knowing that my illness doesn’t define me and if only people stopped looking at my scars like they’re “grabbing attention material”. People need to understand that mental illness has nothing to do with how close I am to God; because at some point people start asking their all-time favorite question “Do you pray?” and start saying stuff like: “Oh dear it must be a test from God to see how faithful you are!” “ – N., 20
“ Well, I’m diagnosed with depression and serious exam anxiety. My parents were actually very supportive when I told them how miserable I was and how I really needed to talk to a professional. That itself really helped me knowing that they genuinely want me to get better and not accuse me of making things up for attention or of it being in my head. What I wish my parents would have acknowledged is that my exam anxiety and eating disorder during my finals phase was totally not up to me, it was something I had no control over whatsoever. I would enter the exam room and start shaking, my blood pressure would rise and I’d start crying. I would stress eat throughout the whole 2 months of finals. They thought me sleeping in early or just “staying calm and trying to convince myself that the exam I’m taking is like any other past paper I’m doing at home” would be helping, but it really was not. I couldn’t help it. They didn’t get that and they’d hold it against me as I want to pursue a job that mainly revolves around stress control, that I wouldn’t be able to pursue it. I wish they would just understand that besides having school to worry about, I have a life as well.” Anonymous, 17
“I have anxiety. Well, my parents think that I’m just really bad at communicating, and all the times that I dread going out, they think it’s me being lazy. I wish they would just let me explain what’s going on and I really wish that they’d take it seriously instead of dismissing it as me being shy or lazy. I want them to care for me, because I feel they only care about the things that they deem normal about me, and the things that aren’t “normal” they tend to not even bat an eyelash towards” – H, 14.
Those examples are not enough to explain how dire the situation with most mentally ill teens is. There are teenagers who are rape victims, teenagers who are bullied, teenagers who are emotionally unstable due to toxic relationships, teenagers who suffer from substance abuse – but you know where the root of all of those mental illness-inducing problems is? Emotional starvation. Yes, most teenagers with mental illness diagnosis are severely emotionally starved, who grew up with a tonne of expectations hanging over their heads like a guillotine, ready to drop and detach their heads at any sign of disappointment. So, here’s a message to every parent out there, whose child was diagnosed with any type of mental illness, or even undiagnosed but with a notable special behavior: Your kid is not “too young”, not “lazy”, and not “going through a phase”. It’s time to listen, to give compassion, to love unconditionally, to cherish, to appreciate, to give back, to support, to teach, to discuss, and to realize that your child’s attitude is a product of their socialization. Be a super-human in the eyes of your child, not a just an ordinary person.