Teens Taking the Time to Talk Mental Health
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because we could all use a lesson in bravery.
By Amanda Bungartz
Society, in certain places and spaces, seems to spend a lot of capital honoring and exalting perfection. So openly facing and discussing your imperfections? Almost impossible to comfortably get the floor to do so. And something especially true when it comes to mental health.
But Eleanor Roosevelt once famously said “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Especially because life is rarely all smiles, all the time.
Moreover, according to the World Health Organization, mental health issues represent the biggest economic burden of any health issue in the world, costing $2.5 trillion in 2010, with projected costs to be $6 trillion by 2030. Which is why organizations like Well Being Trust believe that making people comfortable talking about mental health will begin to shorten social distances and raise the quality of care, especially among at-risk young adults and teens.
So in partnership with Well Being Trust, OZY found two teens who aren’t afraid of their own imperfections, facing their mental health issues head-on and, in their own words, are willing to tell us all about it.
“It can be hard to reach out, but if you do, it will be the bravest and most important step in your life.” — Bee H., 16
I’ve always known in the back of my mind that I was not “normal” just based on how I acted, how I felt and how the people around me acted. I remember one time in elementary school I was being semi-teased by some of my friends, they were saying things like “you’re just a girl in a boy’s body.” At the time, I sort of ignored that but soon I started thinking “wow maybe!” That was probably my first indicator that I was not male.
It wasn’t until I started middle school a few years later that I got exposure to more ideas surrounding “gender” and what that actually means. It was around this time that the concept of being neither male nor female first entered my head. Strangely enough, at the same time that I came to this conclusion, I also really started hating my body. I spent years isolated — no friends, no events, just nothing. My hatred for my body was already pretty prevalent so I decided to do something about it. I came out to my family as transgender.
Did I identify as female? No, but still saying I was transgender meant I could get one step closer to the body I wanted. It took a long time for the hospital to get me started on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and I was pretty upset about that. And as I came to these realizations about my body and started HRT, my relationship with food also started to change. I didn’t really care about what I ate before. But one day, a voice started creeping in.
At first it was mild, just like something in the back of my mind. Imagine an angel and a devil on your shoulders, but these were both devils. In one ear I heard “you will never be enough,” “you aren’t a real woman,” “you’re just a faker.” While in the other ear I heard “look at how many calories are in that,” “you’re such a fat ass,” “why do you eat so much?”
Eventually the voices just combined into one, and I started listening. I was self-harming and weighing myself every day hoping to see the numbers go down. The voice kept promising me that it would help me get the body I wanted; all I had to do was just not eat.
I started small — first skipping breakfast, then lunch, then eating as little as I could at dinner. When I told my therapist about it, she helped me start to see food in a different light, but I soon relapsed and started restricting once again. Recovery is a slow and arduous process that may take multiple tries. If anyone is trying to get help, then please stick with it.
I am still trying to recover and my relationship with food is still unhealthy. It can be hard to reach out, but if you do, it will be the bravest and most important step in your life. If you relapse, don’t beat yourself up. Just try again, and keep trying and trying. Life is too short to count your calories, they’re simply just fuel to allow you to do the things you love. They won’t hurt you.
“And, more than anything, who are you to pull me out of the closet?” — Derek E., 18
My hometown fits just about every small town stereotype possible: everyone knows everyone, everyone dresses and acts the same, and everyone feels the same way about those that stand out. Thankfully for me, I tend to stand out. I identify as metrosexual, or the flamboyant side of straight. I’ve always talked a little differently, walked a little differently, and thought a little differently than my peers. But when you’re 10 years old, you don’t really know how to react to being teased about being gay. For me, I just thought, “what in the world does that mean?” Until I got home and looked it up.
I knew what it meant to love someone of the same gender, as my aunt has been with her wife for as long as I’ve known. But what was strange to me was someone trying to insult me for a misnomer of my sexuality. Why does it matter who I like? And, more than anything, who are you to pull me out of the closet? That day was only the beginning of a life full of snide comments and constant harassment. Throughout middle school, I had groups of students who thought my name was ”faggot” or would avoid talking to me because they thought I’d hit on them.
In the eighth grade, I decided to bottle up who I was and hide it. I played football to prove I was a man, I got a girlfriend to prove I wasn’t gay, I started hanging out with the “cool kids” so that I could fit in. But every second of every day, I was dying inside. I was hiding my whole life to make others comfortable. I was going through a process called masking, which is a toxic habit that can lead to personality dissociation and depression. Although I was never diagnosed because I was too afraid to speak of it, I know that this was my first bout of depression.
During my sophomore year, I found the courage to be myself through leadership. Through the Oregon Association of Student Councils, I found people just like me and others who I really felt comfortable with. I had only ever told one person this full story until I decided to tell it to my whole high school while I was running for ASB President. I was so confident and proud to share my struggles, until someone stood up in the middle of my speech and called me gay. After that day, I’ve been struggling to remain as confident as I had been, but I know I can get back to that point.
I know that there were people sitting in those bleachers that day who felt a connection with me because they too had been silencing who they are. I have not stopped fighting for the normalization of those like me — those who are lost, who have found themselves but are not confident, or those who are just misunderstood. The most important thing for us is social acceptance. Most people who end up masking must feel loved and accepted before they can truly love and accept themselves. So please, take the time to find those who you know you can trust, and let yourself blossom. Or reach out to someone who you know struggles with something similar. You are loved, and you are valuable just the way you are.
Well Being Trust is a national nonprofit dedicated to advancing mental, social and spiritual health. In an effort to help combat teen mental health issues, Well Being Trust is actively involved with six different youth-staffed support hotlines. These hotlines are run by teens for teens, helping provide peer counseling for young adults in need. Well Being Trust’s ultimate goal is to create a national peer-to-peer network that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, at any time.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK