As time seems to fly without any chance for rest, I'm always surprised to see dates come and leave. In the blink of an eye, we're now in October. It feels like yesterday was the first day of August, I was worried about room decor and whether I'd enjoy my professors and at this point I've hit the wall where I wonder whether I made the right decisions. Was it the best move to take all these classes at once? Maybe, maybe not. I'm sure as I blink once more I'll know the answer to that question because it'll be November or December, and I'll be anxiously sitting on my couch staring at my computer praying that my grades are as good as I want them to be.
Time moves too quickly, it seems. Just a minute ago I was starting school and now I'm required to start thinking about next semester, what I'm doing for the summer, where I'll be in a year from now, two years from now, when I've graduated. Goodness, I'm only a second-year please give me a break. It's a terrifying thought: the future. I don't know what I'm having for breakfast tomorrow morning or quite frankly if I'll have breakfast and I'm supposed to think rationally about my life ten years into the future?
Living in the moment is something we're expected to do. As teenagers emerging into the world we're supposed to be going out, trying new things, and experiencing the world as it is, but I can't help but feel like I'm so trapped towards my future. I feel like there are days when I can't give myself a break because "I have an assignment due on Friday I could be doing right now," or "You know that studying for multiple days ahead of a test is the most beneficial way to learn and process information." How can I live in the moment when the future me is being pushed onto the present me? It's frustrating. It's tiring.
The world we live in, the society that we've created, is forcing young adults to grow up faster. They're telling us to get better, strive for more, have internships, get a part-time job on top of your full-time schedule, study every day, read every word of every chapter, and--
For me to take away the time that I need at this moment to decompress, to let go of ever once of pressure on my back? Sometimes I feel as though they think the massive amounts of stress will equate to character development all the while it's leading to crushed souls and fallen victims.
All the while they're treating us like we're incapable-- whether it be calling our generation sensitive or insisting that we're just children who need to experience the true hardships of the world. They're spoon-feeding us meat while simultaneously throwing us out to the cannibalistic dogs.
Last month was Suicide Prevention Month.
Ah yes, another mental health talk, not from your therapist, but from a person on the internet that thoroughly enjoys making people uncomfortable about things that should be comfortable to talk about. It's not to say that I enjoy making people uncomfortable, rather, it's the opposite. I enjoy making uncomfortable people comfortable because that shows growth. It shows the development of character, progression, progress. One small step for man, one massive step for mankind. If I'm able to change one mind, whether it be that of someone old, someone young, someone who has dealt with these kinds of struggles or one who has remained blissfully ignorant to the subject, I'm happy. The ability for me to move someone with the words I type is all worth it, then.
Let's get uncomfortable, then, shall we?
Twelve percent of college students have experienced at least one suicidal thought during their four years of college. Twelve percent doesn't seem like much, does it? If there are around 26,000 undergrads at UGA and we take 12% of that, that makes around 3,000 students. Three thousand students. Three thousand students at the University of Georgia will have experienced at least one suicidal thought during their four years of schooling. Now it seems a bit bigger, doesn't it? Twelve out of one hundred, more than one out of ten.
That's a big deal, isn't it?
So why aren't we talking about it?
You know what? I still ask myself that question every day, if I'm being honest.
Instead of putting out flyers that say "you're important" and "you're loved" and that "you're appreciated in this world," why aren't we talking about the reasons behind suicidal thoughts, or maybe the resources people can use in order to get help?
When I finally reached out to the health center in order to seek help for my problems I had reached such a low and dark point in my life that staring at a little poster that said "You Matter!" wouldn't have done anything. If anything, it's a joke. You're handing someone with a broken bone a lollipop to get them to stop crying when that does nothing to solve the actual problem that you can't see on the outside.
As much as I can come to appreciate the sentiment and the meaning behind encouraging posters, they don't do any good. They don't solve the problem. They put a piece of tape over a busted pipe. It's the easy way out, the way that says that "you tried," but you just took the easiest method with the least amount of actual change and benefit.
Where does this problem stem from?
I could, of course, blame the stigma we have about coming forward with these topics, because it is a reason for it. If I had felt more comfortable reaching out to people about the struggles I faced, maybe I wouldn't have reached such a rock bottom. Maybe if I had been informed about the nitty-gritty, ugly details I would have had a better understanding of the way that these kinds of things work.
But, oh no, that's too much of a sensitive topic for my little young gen z ears to hear about!
Let's use another analogy: teenagers are going to have sex whether you inform them and provide them with the necessary tools to do it safely or not. Likewise, teenagers are going to experience mental hardships whether they're informed about them or not. It's as simple as that. If you supply me with the deep and dark statistics and the tell-tale warning signs, that doesn't stop me from experiencing mental health problems, but it sure makes it a lot easier for me not to feel isolated, alone, and lost.
I'm also here to blame the rigor and the academic stress that a lot of students face every day. The fact that I overhear first years saying they stayed up until three in the morning studying and only got four hours of sleep shouldn't be normal. It shouldn't be normal to hear someone say they had a big breakdown after taking a test because they've been so overwhelmed with it and they still feel like they've failed. That's not okay. To put such a strong pressure on the importance of grades does nothing but make students feel like their effort and hard work will never be enough. You can try as hard as you possibly can and feel so incredible, but when the grade comes back and it isn't what you're expecting you suddenly feel so helpless.
The fact that I'm constantly being told to think about the future with no time to just take a moment to live in the present is so incredibly frustrating and difficult. It's easy to get overwhelmed, get lost in self-deprecating thoughts that drag you further and further down the rabbit hole until you're stuck in pitch-black darkness and you've never felt so alone. You're lost, without any bit of light in sight. Your throat feels like it's starting to close in on you as you struggle to gain the air needed to fill your lungs, your hands try to cling to anything, but you can't see them. They're swallowed by the dark. You're alone. Even screaming doesn't seem to help call anyone closer. You're alone.
The generalized pressure from society comes hand in hand with the massive amount of academic stress teenagers and young adults face today. The fact that while we're supposed to be maintaining impeccable grades (because anything less than a 4.0 is worthless), matching the body images of celebrities and caring about the number of likes we get on an Instagram photo because that too is an indication of our worth is ridiculous. The only parts of us that are important to the outside world is our numbers on an academic paper and the number of likes we get on our photos. You can be such a beautiful and incredible person on the inside but if you don't fit both of those two criteria, I'm sorry, you're just not worth society's time.
All of these pressures build-up on individuals until they reach their breaking point.
Suicide is the second-largest cause of death for university and college students.
If this is such a massive problem, putting posters up that say "You have a life worth living," isn't going to do anything. A person who is depressed and contemplating suicide isn't going to look at a piece of paper that says "You're beautiful," with a butterfly on it and suddenly not be depressed anymore. It's the lollipop for a broken arm or a bandaid for a leaking pipe ideology. You tried, but it didn't do anything. Why all of a sudden are you trying to tell someone something when you've never cared about them in the first place?
Instead of wasting money on cardstock paper to print off these inspirational messages, why don't we actually move forward and give someone the information to the resources they need? Why don't we have informational sessions that talk about the serious issues surrounding mental health and the real, deep facts about suicide that can't be ignored? Why can't we have an open conversation about the massive stress of academic rigor and the leading effects on mental health?
Is it because we're scared? We're scared to talk about "big" problems with a generation that seems so frail? Kids are going to have sex even if you hide it from them. Kids are going to have suicidal thoughts even if you hide the topic of mental illness from them.
It's time to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. It's time that we as a whole step up and stop the babying mentality and actually go in to solve the problem. No more lollipop for the broken arm-- it's actually time we go to the doctor and get it fixed.
Stop telling people "they matter" when you've never cared about them before. I'm sure some of the people who are out there spreading those messages have never had a suicidal thought in their life, and that's fantastic for them, but that doesn't mean those messages have any sort of benefit to those who need help. You can cheer from the side of the field all you want for as long as you want, but in the end that isn't going to help people on the field. The training and education those players got before the game are going to be the cause of their success, not the cute screams from the sideline.
At the end of the day, those messages got me thinking. They sparked me having this conversation because I'm someone who is open and willing to have that conversation, but just because I'm willing to have that conversation doesn't mean that everyone else is, and it especially doesn't mean that the 12% of students that experience suicidal thoughts are either. If these conversations become more regular and more people know about the options they have, it makes things so much easier.
There are ways that you can help that aren't just saying things like "I would miss you if you committed suicide," or "you have a life worth living". If you see someone who you feel is depressed or might be considering suicide, reach out to them. Become their friend, don't just label them as their depression or their mental health: treat them like a person. They're people. They don't want to be treated like an alien or a hope project or your problem to fix. They're people, just be genuine and helpful. Listen to them if they want to talk, give them a hand when they need help, show them the possibilities for them if they need a place to seek formal help or necessary medication. There are so many things you can do that aren't patronizing and insulting.
Everyone has the ability to make a difference in someone's life and just being a decent, understanding human being can honestly make all the difference.
September was the month for us to start having these conversations-- to learn and to grow and to change the world to make it a better place for everyone. It's the time for us to spread awareness of the cold hard truths, even though they might be a little scary to swallow. We as a society have to look at things at their face value in order to make any progress in the world.
We have to make a change in the way we look at suicide. We need to look at why these things are happening, where they're occurring the most, and what are the best ways that we can prevent suicide. We have the ability to change the statistics, but the methods right now aren't the right way.
Let's start getting comfortable at being uncomfortable.
If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: