Depression and suicide among teens is currently a popular topic in my social media newsfeed due to the recently-released Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”. Some people have been praising its frankness and honesty in dealing with the topic while others felt that the series failed to show that there is a way for teens who are contemplating suicide to get help. I have not seen the show yet but I have read the book so I’ll probably share my thoughts on this debate later on in this post.
For now, I’m going to talk about my own personal experiences and struggles. (DISCLAIMER: Clinically speaking, I do not have depression because I have not been diagnosed by any mental health professionals.)
There are times in my life where I’ve felt empty–like everything I used to love doing suddenly became meaningless and tedious, like nothing I do would make any difference in the world, like my life had no purpose and that I had nothing else left to live for. This feeling–this intense, overwhelming feeling of helplessness and isolation–would come and go. At times, It’d last for only a day but sometimes it’d span weeks and months. This has been going on ever since I was in high school.
Now, I have not been diagnosed by any mental health professionals because I have not sought them out, mostly because I can function well enough but also because I feel like my problems aren’t big enough to warrant therapy and/or serious professional help. I can cope somewhat well enough on my own.
To my surprise, whenever I’d try opening up about how I feel to my peers, a lot of them have felt the same way. Some peers of mine have even been actually diagnosed with clinical depression. A lot of them have seriously contemplated suicide.
The frequency of cases I’ve personally encountered coupled with posts/accounts I’ve read online got me to start believing that depression and suicidal ideation among Filipino millennials is a lot more common than adults care to admit. Why is this happening?
One Psychology professor of mine seems baffled by this phenomenon as well. He posted on Facebook that he has been encountering teen depression cases a lot more frequently and he wondered why this was going on. People commented on his post (most of them adults). Some of them said that this was a generational thing–that previous generations have also had mental health problems but were simply taught proper coping mechanisms, unlike today’s teens. Others have suggested that it was due to social media and teens’ lack of exercise.
In an interview with The Philippine Star, Dr. Violeta Bautista, a clinical psychologist and the director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Office of Counseling and Guidance, gave her opinion on the reason why there seems to be such an increase in teen suicide. She said:
“Globalization exposes young people to different lifestyles, beliefs… there is no ready, available person to help process such information. Parents are busy. OFW is not bad, but if there is no creative response to the challenge of parents being absent, then children are adversely affected; it really becomes a problem when both parents leave for overseas work. New developments, such as LGBT, are not matched with education that helps teens understand and deal with actual-life challenges. The pace of life is also faster, with higher demands on children. Technology speeds up life, makes learning more challenging, and young people need to keep pace. Old values are being challenged and there are not enough venues for intelligent and health discussions.”
In my opinion, teens nowadays may not necessarily be more prone to depression than previous generations. It’s just that people weren’t as open about discussing mental health issues back then as they are now because of the stigma attached to those who experience such problems and the previous generations’ lack of awareness on the subject matter. Then again, I also believe that there is some truth in what my Psychology professor and Dr. Bautista have said. There may be some facets of millennial culture that directly and indirectly contribute to greater increase in teenage depression.
Much like Dr. Bautista, I also believe that greater globalization has affected how teens today view things. One such view is the Western idea that “anyone can achieve anything as long as you work hard” which is a contrast to the more Filipino viewpoint that “some things are out of your control so just leave it to God“. This may be why this generation’s teens are more sensitive to rejection, conflict & failure. We have been led to believe that our failure is our problem and ours alone, not the product of circumstances beyond our control or other variables in the situation.
Now, let’s get back to “13 Reasons Why” and its depiction of teenage suicide. I believe that there is truth in both sides of the debate. The book does indeed fail at showing that there are ways for depressed teens to get help. On the other hand, I also feel that this book was not written for the purpose of getting depressed teens to seek out professional help but as a way for not-depressed teens to develop greater empathy for those who are experiencing depression and to become more mindful of their words and actions toward their peers. I believe that there should be room in our culture for these kind of books but there also should be more books written for the purpose of helping depressed teens find help.
Whatever the reason may be for the seeming increase in teenage depression and suicide (whether there are thirteen reasons or only one), what we really need to do is find a way to help those who are experiencing this. As my professor once pointed out, theory without action is virtually meaningless.
(P.S. DOH has launched a suicide prevention hotline. The hotline may be reached at (02) 804-4637; 0917-5584673; and 2919 for Globe and TM subscribers.)