During Mental Health Month, Our Kids Media is featuring a series of articles to raise awareness about depression, anxiety, suicide and other forms of mental illness — and how we can help save our children.
Youth who are suffering from mental illness more often than not find it difficult to get through school. For some people, all they can think about is how they’re going to get through the day and keep it together. Sometimes things such as anxiety and depression can get in the way of success. The gravity of the anxiety and the depression can take a toll and negatively affect academic performance or social interactions.
For most of my life, I was an overachiever and always excelled in school. However, in years past, I dealt with anxiety and depression and found myself going in a downward spiral. It started in junior high and at first, it wasn’t a big deal. A few missed assignments and my grades fell a bit. I knew I could do better but then I stopped caring. My grades dropped from excellent to mediocre. For a time period due to a loophole in the school system, I got away with skipping class without my parents finding out. I never thought I would ever skip class, but things happened and I started doing it more and more. I felt terrible whenever I was at school, so I thought “why should I have to go?” I had a minor intervention and things were fixed, at least for the time being.
So then high school rolls around and I moved to a different area, with a new school and a new start. At first, I was doing really well. However, I started heading downhill again. I had difficulty with school and my grades began to gradually fall. Due to my anxiety, I was afraid of approaching anyone, not even my teachers. I felt like I had nobody to talk to. My grades declined from the 90s to failing badly and barely even making the 50s. I was lost in a sea of students and I hardly spoke to any of my teachers if at all.
It was hard to spot a teacher who might have cared but one of my teachers who knew me and knew what I was capable of saw what was happening and started talking to me. Confronted by this particular teacher, I couldn’t keep it together and she brought me to the guidance counsellor. It was difficult at first to get me talking but eventually I did . . . and it felt like a huge weight off my shoulders to let all the thoughts and emotions out. It took a while to figure out how to make things better but it was a great leap forward for me. When I couldn’t bring myself to speak, a teacher reached out to me.
So what I want to tell teachers is this: Sometimes, all it takes is the simple act of reaching out, and you could make a really big difference for that person. When you look at the sea of students, please reach out and make a difference for those who might be lost in the system.
[Karl Yu is a Grade 12 student in Halifax, Nova Scotia and will be attending university this fall. He has been an active member of the Youth Advisory Council for the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health. The Chair works directly with youth to provide easy-to-understand materials about mental health and the brain. The materials are offered free to parents, families, physicians and anyone who wants them. Visit teenmentalhealth.org for more information.]