Suffering in Silence: The Truth About Mental Health in High School
A current student explains the realities of struggling with mental health and self-harm.
I rushed down the school hallway, feeling sick to my stomach and fighting back a torrent of tears. I gasped as I shoved the door to the bathroom open, struggling to breathe through the tightness in my throat and I quickly checked under the stall doors to make sure I was alone. No one else needed to witness this. I locked myself inside a stall and frantically tried to calm down, but nothing could stop my spiral once it was in motion.
You’re so weak, I thought. Why can’t you get over this?
How do you always end up back here?
You’re nothing. You’re worthless. You could never be enough.
I glanced at my phone, remembering the words of a friend who’d noticed I was upset before class. “Text me if you’re in trouble,” he said. “I’ll leave class if it’ll help you. Just please tell me.”
For a brief moment I wanted to text him, but even as I imagined it I knew I wouldn’t. I was too ashamed, too embarrassed, too afraid to reach out.
I hate you, I told myself, the thought drowning out every other noise in my head.
I hate you.
I hate you.
I hate you.
You deserve to be punished.
You deserve pain.
And with that thought, I couldn’t hold back anymore. I reared back and banged my head against the stall door, thankful that no one else was there to hear.
Self-Harm May Look Unfamiliar
Self-harm and depression aren’t topics that people are usually comfortable talking about. And although the subjects are becoming slightly less taboo, people often have a certain image in mind when they think of them: the stereotypical teenager who wears long sleeves to cover scars from where they have cut to release the pain they feel inside. But that’s not my story.
I’m not saying those kinds of kids aren’t real. I know multiple people who have turned to cutting as a way of coping with the sadness and emptiness they feel. But what people often don’t understand is that there are many other forms of self-harm, and many other types of mental health issues that teens face that aren’t discussed as openly.
Banging body parts against other surfaces, for example, is one form of self-harm that’s more common than you may realize. There’s also burning, punching yourself and pulling out your hair. People hardly ever mention these, and this silence can have serious consequences. In my case, I wasn’t even really sure if I was technically self-harming until I got up the courage to confess to a youth leader what I was doing.
My motivation for self-harming also didn’t fit into the typical mold. I wasn’t trying to release pain, the way people often imagine. At that time in my life, I’d fallen so deeply into a cycle of self-hatred and negative self-talk that I truly believed I deserved to suffer. Banging my head against that bathroom stall was a way of ensuring that I did. Others choose to self-harm because their depression has made them feel numb, and they just want to be able to feel something.
Pressure on High Schoolers Is Getting Heavier—We’re Starting to Crack
It might surprise you how common mental health issues really are today, especially in high schools. High school life today can be an amazing experience, but it’s also clearly flawed and often toxic.
There’s extreme pressure on students to perform and succeed—to get good grades and high test scores, but also to participate in extracurricular activities and be “well-rounded.” The importance of college means that we’re expected to plan for the rest of our lives while we’re still teenagers.
Not only are we supposed to perform academically, but we also have to perform socially. There’s immense pressure to be popular, have lots of friends and to be physically attractive. This pressure also translates into a competition for Snapchat followers and Instagram likes. Technology lets drama and gossip run wild.
Many teenagers crack under this pressure and begin to struggle with various mental health issues. I was 15 when I started self-harming, a little over halfway through my sophomore year. But mental health issues have been an almost constant concern in my life throughout high school, because I’ve spent so much time trying to support struggling friends by listening to their stories and looking out for them.
I have had friends who cut. I have had friends who starve themselves. I have had friends who’ve been hospitalized. I have had friends who are suicidal.
At this point, everyone knows someone who’s suffering in silence.
We Can Turn Self-Harm Into Self-Healing
The summer after my sophomore year, I was able to start seeing a counselor and begin healing. I learned new coping techniques for my depression, and new ways to keep myself from self-harming. I spent time working through my pain and getting to the bottom of the lies that I was telling myself. I finally learned how to love and value myself.
Sometimes I still struggle.
I often speak negatively towards myself, and occasionally I feel the urge to hit my head again. But things are so much better for me now than they were before, and I’ll be forever grateful for the chance that I had to get help.
We Need Solutions: Here’s Where to Start
If you are reading this and you are struggling, I want you to know a few things that I have learned from my experiences.
You are not alone.
It’s okay to get help. It’s not weak to admit that you are struggling. In fact, it’s one of the strongest decisions you can make.
Be patient. Healing is a slow and difficult process. But it will be so worth it in the end.
You aren’t defined by your struggles. You are so much more than just a depression case, an anorexic or a cutter. You’re an amazing, unique, wonderful human being, who deserves to feel happy and to be loved, especially by yourself.
If you’re reading this and you aren’t struggling, then maybe you know someone who is. Maybe you don’t. Either way, I have a message for you too.
Keep a lookout for people around you who may be suffering. If you’re worried about someone, don’t be afraid to reach out. Sometimes all it takes is one person to start someone on the road to healing.
Don’t assume you know what somebody else is going through or exactly how to help them. Take time to listen to what’s going on, then ask how you can help.
Don’t treat people who are struggling with mental health issues as if they’re defined by their issues. We are all so much more than the things we struggle with.