As teen mental health concerns a virtual national epidemic and barely a year after three tragic teenage suicides rocked Transylvania County, nearly 50 students and local residents braved a cold wind Saturday to cross Brevard to raise awareness of the seriousness of a problem. is locally.
The ‘Through Grief to Gratitude’ march highlighted the need, as one event organizer put it, to ‘stop sweeping it under the rug’.
The trek from Brevard College to the Transylvania County Library along Broad Street was organized by TC Strong, a student-nominated group to give them a direct voice on issues that affect so many of their peers. The formation of TC Strong is the result of a collaborative effort between students, schools, parents and local groups, including Transylvania Public Health, the Blue Zones Project and The Family Place.
At the library, attendees heard candid talk from student leaders about mental health awareness and took part in a variety of activities designed to build unity among attendees. This was the first such group effort and organizers hope it will become a quarterly event.
Last year’s teenage deaths prompted residents in December 2021 to do something to address the countywide wave of shock and grief — and help local young people.
TC Strong Student Chapters are now in county high schools to put a face to the issue and provide on-campus resources.
Tara Rybka, from Transylvania Public Health, said the focus has been on older students. COVID-19 meant the group could not meet in person, but the coalition continued to work on initiatives, which led to the events of the past weekend.
“The community wanted to respond, but we needed to do something bigger and better” (to address mental health and make sure) “it wasn’t a one-time thing,” Rybka said.
Everything that is done must rest on the shoulders of the community, not just one entity.
“Schools cannot solve these problems,” Rybka said. “They only have these kids for a certain number of hours. They do not have the capacity and the resources to solve them directly.
Local and national statistics paint a grim picture of the extent and severity of mental health issues facing adolescents.
In short, young people are stressed and under pressure due to various factors. In Transylvania County, one in four high school students report constant feelings of loneliness and another in four feel depressed by feelings of hopelessness, according to the county’s health department. Another 40% “feel worried, anxious or nervous most of the time,” Rybka said. Worse still, 12% of teens nationwide have seriously considered suicide, Rybka said.
In Transylvania County, those numbers would translate to 225 high school teenagers.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that teenage girls are more than twice as likely as men to consider or attempt suicide.
National statistics reflect those of Transylvania County. CDC figures show nearly half of college students surveyed “felt constantly sad or hopeless” and even before COVID-19 “young people’s mental health was already in decline.”
“When it comes to mental health, globally we know that half of mental health problems start before the age of 14, so it’s something that parents, teachers and community members have to watch,” Rybka said. “It’s not too early to tell the kids about it.
Locally, mental health manifests itself in other ways. Here, doctors report more office visits for young people.
When asked if he had seen a similar increase, Deputy Scott Thomas of the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office (which provided an escort for the walkers) replied: “Oh yes, (I have ) saw an increase in mental health issues among young people” in his 16 years with the force.
He said many times parents call for help with a disruptive teenager.
“We are here to give them help if needed,” he said.
How did teen mental health take such a downturn? Experts point to many factors, including the pressure to do well in school, to be ‘active’ all the time, financial pressures, parental abuse, worries about their future prospects and a culprit who many believe , is a major contributor: ubiquitous social media.
“We live in a society where there are a lot of overlapping connections and where there’s a lot going on (including) the pressures of social media where there’s this constant judging and judging, often anonymously,” said Rybka.
Adults have talked a lot about adolescent mental health, but it seems that even among some adolescents, the notion of frank and useful conversation is limited.
Trinity Wilbanks, TC Strong delegate at Rosman High School, said while she’s more than willing to talk about mental health, other “kids don’t talk about it much.”
“There’s a bit of chatter, but not as much as there should be,” said Wilbank, who attended elementary school through ninth grade with one of the students who took his own life there. last fall rated mental health issues as “very important… a 10” on a scale of importance from 1 to 10.
Hazel Friedman, an eighth-grader at Brevard Academy, doesn’t see much conversation either and thinks such discussion faces an obstacle to open discussion.
“There’s this barrier where talking about mental health is embarrassing” for some students,” she said. And when the topic surfaces, some students “make jokes about it and call people ’emo,'” which is teenage slang for someone “who’s overly sensitive, emotional and full of angst,” according to dictionary.com.
On the one hand, Firedman does not accept these derogatory terms.
“We should break this,” she said. “That takes away the importance.”
As for teens who feign strength, she said people wouldn’t talk about mental health because they see it as a “sign of weakness.”
“People want to appear stronger than they really are. They don’t want to appear vulnerable. Vulnerability is the weakness of the new generation,” she said.
The will to change must start from within, according to Sarah Hankey of the Blue Zones Project.
“People have to start caring about their own well-being and have to be prepared to be vulnerable and to speak up,” she said.
Doing so “can be uncomfortable because if you don’t feel good about your own well-being, it’s hard to open up,” she said.
Even so, Hankey said, teen mental health requires a lot more attention and conversation. We have to, she says, “stop sweeping it under the rug.”