Words || Budjarn Lambeth
[Content Warning: this article discusses mental health, depression and suicide]
The other day, on one of my usual random YouTube sprees, I stumbled across a video where a group of middle aged medical professionals were discussing suicide and depression in young people, and it astonished me how out of touch they actually were. I was honestly a little taken aback by how little these professionals understood the mindset of depressed young people. I wasn’t angry, just surprised that they really didn’t know what our experiences were like. It got me thinking that, for all the talk about mental health problems in young people, very few policy makers or mainstream journalists have actually asked us “young’uns” for our thoughts; we’ve just become lost in the noise. So, as a young person who grew up in Bathurst, suffered from severe depression and repeatedly contemplated suicide for several years during high school, I want to describe my experience and hopefully demystify this issue for people who don’t understand why so many young people are thinking this way.
The key is the sense of hopelessness we all feel. Think about it – we are growing up in a world where we are told that 96% of scientists are completely confident that our world will become unsuitable for agriculture in the next 200 years, where we are told that the price of food, electricity and housing will continue to rise but our income won’t increase at all, where we are told that our leaders will never fix any of these problems because traditional democracy is dead and the only way to change anything is with a massive campaign donation. I’m going to put it bluntly, from the moment we were old enough to understand the news, we’ve been told that everything is turning to crap, and there’s nothing we can do about it. That our lives will be worse than our parents’, and our children’s lives will be worse than ours.
So, no, it’s not this scary newfangled internet fad that’s magically making us feel depressed, it’s the fact that we were born into a dying world and that whenever we try to do anything about it we’re silenced and pushed to the sidelines. And frankly, we don’t want to just sit around and watch everything fall apart. In fact, the internet was the only thing that kept me alive. I found friends on the internet who felt the same way, they were devastated by the suffering of people and animals around the world, and we were able to lean on each other for support. If my parents had followed the advice from the out of touch “professionals” in that video and limited my ‘screen time’, I would have had no one to talk to, no one to tell me that actually I could help the world, that I was loved and valuable, that I was not alone, and that things could get better. I didn’t have screen time during high school I would be dead.
About halfway through last year, my final year of highschool, I ran out of the house with a cup of water and all the medications from the cupboard. I had every intention of killing myself. I’d had enough of the world, I’d had enough of seeing everyone and everything else suffer, I’d had enough of my own emotional suffering, and I just wanted it to be over. I couldn’t imagine 60 or so more years of that kind of pain. It wasn’t a cry for help.I’d asked for help, and I’d been passed around like a hot potato between a bunch of different psychologists, none of them getting anywhere with me before my 10 sessions expired and I had to be passed along to the next person. It was a final desperate attempt to just escape from everything. I hesitated, and I decided not to do it. If I hadn’t had friends online to remind me that there were things to live for, I might not have hesitated, and I might not be here today.
So, adults, if you want to fix the mental health epidemic in young people, here’s what you do. First, leave our computers alone! They’re a crucial source of support. Second, fix the mental health care system, especially in rural areas – you should be treating people long before they ever attempt suicide.They shouldn’t have to wait until they get taken to hospital before they actually get a permanent psychologist. Third, and most importantly, either fix the world yourselves, or give us the power to fix it. We can’t cope with another year of out of touch politicians propped up with billions of corporate dollars continuing to keep us distracted with personality contests and frivolous debates over how many genders there are while they continue to cut back our quality of life and irreversibly damage our environmental and economic future. We’re sick of sitting back and waiting for things to change. If our only options are to organise online and protest the corporate puppets, or write letters to them begging to do the right thing, we’re just going to be ignored.
We just want things to be better. We want to feel like we’re part of some greater positive big picture. We want to be able to look ahead and see a bright future, but right now we feel like one of the last few generations of a failed experiment that’s about to go extinct. We look ahead and we see all the knowledge we’ve spent centuries discovering being lost, we see filthy polluted skies, we see economic and technological stagnation, we see crops that won’t grow in the tenth successive year of drought, we see people looking up at the sky and seeing worlds we’ll never get the chance to visit, because we couldn’t even manage this one. We see hunger, loss and hopelessness when we look to the future,and you expect us not to feel depressed? You expect us not to feel unbearable pain knowing that everything we stand for is going to be lost, and lack the power to do change it?
I can’t speak for everyone, this is just my experience. Maybe I’m the weird one, and most depressed teenagers really are being somehow magically turned crazy by those newfangled computers. But in my experience, it’s something a lot deeper than that. It’s that we have so much we want to say, but we never feel heard. We feel so lonely, because there are so many voices on TV, but none of them are ours. There is so much we’re stressed about, and we dread our future so much, but no one wants to listen to us, no one wants to help us, no one wants to give us the power to fix it. We don’t know how to cope, we don’t know what to do. We’re just kids, and we’re scared, and we’re lonely, and we want to be heard. That’s what you need to know. That, in my experience, is the cause of the problem. Let us know that there is a way things can turn out okay, and show us what steps we can take to make them okay, give us that sense of agency, optimism and most of all sense of being heard, and then we’ll feel happy and empowered like every young person should. Not hopeless, terrified and isolated.