An unknown force: student mental health

Decker Paterson _21 in the Walk of Virtues, September 2020 – photo by Communications, edited by Jeffrey Yang ’22

One fateful day in September, I started sophomore year. It was a fresh start. I finally had my learner’s permit. I decided to take harder classes. I also started working out for a sport I would never do again. I walked into a year believing it would be like all the others, but the stone steps leading up to the high school building would lead me into a new year with new experiences. 

     The first time I skipped sports was when I texted my mother to pick me up after school. She asked me, “Do you want to drive home?” I replied with a “no” and shifted the passenger seat back. Everything went dark, and my stream of consciousness slipped. The next thing I knew, my mother woke me up telling me that we were home. 

     Suddenly, that one moment became a common occurrence. I would find myself either in too much pain from pushing myself—one time I found myself limping—or generally tired from a lack of sleep. Soon, the typical text was “hey can u pick me up at 3:15 today?” In the beginning, my mother would ask why, and I would reply “I don’t feel good,” “I have a sh*t ton of homework,” or something else to that extent. After a while, the message just became “OK.” Some days, I wanted to escape from the stressful fires that burned this place called “school.”

…I found myself becoming more apathetic and unmotivated.

     Over the course of days—turning into weeks, I found myself becoming more apathetic and unmotivated. Games occupied my time. I sat in the basement for hours, staring at a virtual series of images, dancing at sixty frames per second, training me for nothing. Traditionally, video games meant spending time with friends on the weekends, where we would all join a call and play various types of games from shooters to strategy games. The flashing colors, well-executed gameplay, and the ingrained idea of fun flooded my brain for hours at a time. Even so, the embedded image still did not help me, as any enjoyment seemed non-existent. I lacked any motivation to do anything. 

     It took me three months to find out what was wrong with me.

     I did not learn it from a shrink, nor some kind of epiphany. It was from my mother, the woman who has done the most for me. She told me I experienced depression for the first time. It all started to make sense. Fatigue is a symptom of depression. I was gaining weight because I ate all the time. I did not want to do anything because I lacked the motivation and care to do so. I felt some of the classic symptoms the National Institute of Mental Health defines under Teen Depression

     A Business Insider article stated younger people are experiencing depression at a higher rate, something they claim to know the reason for. The article states that depression rates in teens are higher because we do not talk face to face with each other as much as people did back in the late ’80s. A study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships states, “High-school seniors today spend a full hour less socializing in person than teens in the late ’80s did.” I would argue a good portion of the lack of socializing is due to the duty of school work, but I also believe it comes from social media. From my experience, whenever I looked at Twitter or Instagram for a prolonged period of time, I became apathetic, hopeless, and generally more unhappy than when I started perusing. 

     I made the conscious decision to delete the apps. I felt much better.

     One method behind my thinking is that we like comparing ourselves to others. We like to see where we are in life relative to others. When we see that someone has what we do not have, we get jealous, mad, or sad. A simple idea for sure, but one that either empowers the human mind or breaks it. 

     If you already suffer from low self-esteem, then you will probably fall deeper into depression. This depression stays for a while, and after it is gone it only revives itself every time your eyes touch the light emanating off of that social media page. It could also be the ways things in the news are portrayed, as everything is kind of seen as negative. In the modern era, everybody is always looking for something to make themselves look better than everyone, and telling others why they are now inferior to them. 

     Combine these two reasons, and it makes an equation for a cesspit of opinions and arguments—a land of negativity never to be traversed without getting stabbed. As a hypothetical, someone will say something like, “Guys we need to band together to do something about X,” and then proceed to tell people why they are not doing enough for this problem. These people try to be moral while choking their readers with the “fact” that their audience is lower than them. When coming across these people online, especially when growing up with this, it is no wonder that kids have such intense mental problems. Kids live their lives surrounded by negativity. 

I do not know what to call this feeling. All I know is that it exists within me. 

     All for what? So that they can stress about things they cannot control while they should be enjoying themselves? So that they can be influenced by those who are pushing an agenda? So that they can feel devoid of hope in this world? It starts to make an observer, who went through all this, think “what’s the point?” and “why do I even bother?” Negativity on social media and all the areas that surround it certainly cannot be good for the mental wellbeing of children, and it is sad that it arrives on the doorstep of so many teens. I was and still am trying to find out how the world works, and it makes me feel something that I have never experienced when writing this. 

     I do not know what to call this feeling. All I know is that it exists within me. 

     In life, happiness is hard to attain. I once stated—without trying to sound edgy—that life is just long blocks of suffering, with bits of happiness in between. I know what spurred on that thought: observation. I looked at everything around me, and looked at myself and thought that about the human condition. If you asked me if I was right, I would reply, “I dunno.” 

     As much as I do know, I have yet to find a solution to it myself, and I want to wait before trying any medication. 

     Maybe I will never find a solution, and I doubt I will. 

     Depression is a serious topic for most, even if we joke about it. You never know what might send someone over the edge. After all, the only thing separating a dry, grassy hill from the fires of hell is a simple matchstick.