By Meghan Aslin
Artwork by Hallie Anderson
In late June of this past summer, the Los Angeles Times released an article featuring statistics stating that since 1960, the rate of teenage suicide has reached an all-time high.
The article goes on to suggest that, among many other factors, increased exposure to social media due to more access to technology If you were to look this up on Google, you would find a million sources claiming that social media is the issue.
This very well may be true, but this has me wondering why I am only hearing reports on mental health in the US and other first world countries.
Some, like the author of the LA Times article, argue that it’s because we have social media. Some think that third world country citizens don’t have the option of visiting a doctor or having the education to help them understand their mental health. I personally think the origin lies somewhere in the middle.
I recently sat down with Jessica Seebeck to dive into this topic. Seebeck, who joined the SMS community last year as the beloved ninth-grade health teacher, is passionate about mental health and providing the students of St. Mary’s with the support and mental health education that they need. When asked whether the US as a first world country is more privileged to have a mental health crisis as opposed to a starvation crisis or epidemic, Ms. Seebeck calmly responded “It’s impossible to compare one country’s suffering to another when they are dealing with completely different sufferings … and that is OK. I don’t know who it benefits to compare who is happier.” She went on to explain how degrading it can be for someone to be told that they are invalid for having a mental illness because they are more privileged financially. Guilt and internalized humiliation set in and can often worsen a mental illness to dangerous extremes. As a whole, we should always be grateful for what we have, but that does not give someone the right to judge or compare someone’s sufferings to another.
Many adult researchers attribute the cause of the mental health crisis to social media. This is very true in some cases. Social media causes users to compare body image, social lives, and popularity even when they don’t realize it; however, social media can also have many positive effects on teenagers. Solely to blame social media for this crisis is lazy. It is not taking genetics, trauma, past experiences, physical health, or family situations into account. Ms. Seebeck explained that in a way, social media can create friendship opportunities for teenage users with people that they don’t usually see in their day to day schedules; however, just as a person needs a break from constantly being around friends and family, they also need a break from social media; moderation is key.
No person is “privileged” to suffer from mental illness. It is an ongoing struggle for every person, regardless of class or nationality. When speaking about mental health, respect should always be expected, given, and received. As Ms. Seebeck reiterated, “People of different places suffer in different ways, and calling them out for that isn’t benefiting anyone. Helping them and asking respectful questions would do more good.”
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