(High School Insider)
Orange County School of the Arts

Opinion: The overexposure and stigma of mental illness

Insensitive comments downplaying mental health struggles fill the hallways of high schools every day. I struggle to identify a day in the past month in which I did not hear someone around me make a joke about suicide. Harmful language like “I’m gonna kill myself, LOL” or “that gives me PTSD, haha” or “what is she, bipolar?” are all too common among youth today.

The motivation behind comments like these varies from person to person — it can be something as severe as a cry for help, or as mild as an attempt at getting a laugh from your crush. 

But jokes and comments similar to these correlate directly to a societal issue our teens are facing today: the overexposure of mental illness.

Our society used to thrive off silence. Silence surrounding women’s opinions, men’s emotions, and military member’s sexuality. But now at the forefront, speaking up about these issues is a brigade of passionate teens. 

With the removal of King Arthur’s sword on speaking out about mental health-related issues, much of the way our society functions is rapidly changing.

However, with such a societal breakthrough comes naysayers and abusers of the rights that are saving many lives. These groups are made up of a myriad of different people whose views contradict this breakthrough in many ways. What this community all has in common is a lack of education.

This very lack of education affects the lives of real people living with real mental illnesses every day. 

A student will be sitting at lunch and hear someone who they thought they trusted make an ignorant joke about depression and suicidal thoughts, something that this person is struggling with at the moment.

That same student will have a panic attack in class and ask their teacher if they can step outside to collect themselves. When they walk back into the room they will find their teacher standing in front of the class accusing them of lying. Their counselor will tell them the school is brushing this all under the rug. And this student, left neglected and misunderstood by their school and friends, will be pushed beyond the breaking point.

This is one specific story of one specific student. But there are so many stories, both identical and unique to my example that prove the deadly mixture of overexposure and lack of education leads to more and more students being pushed past the breaking point. 

American education systems continue to make somewhat of an attempt to improve the quality of life at school for those dealing with mental illness, however, they keep missing the mark. There will be a survey given to students that asks strangely invasive questions about stress levels and makes unfair assumptions based on a lack of information.

Assignments like these, created to assist in students learning more about their mental health, often just result in making students feel more alone as the survey fails to recognize the issues they are really struggling with. Teachers will often lecture students about how their phones are the cause of all their problems internally and externally, go off on tangents regarding the fact that nobody was dealing with mental health issues years ago. This completely disregards the fact that maybe we now live in a society in which discussions surrounding mental health issues are accepted, rather than punished. 

All of this leads back to the overexposure and lack of education surrounding mental health. As jokes and misinformed soapbox statements leave our youth with a society built on the fragile foundation of unheard cries for help.