As my heart felt like it was failing and I thought I was going to throw up, I wondered: am I dying? I wanted to run, but I didn’t know where. I could feel everyone’s eyes burning on my back with judgment. Could they tell I thought I was going to die?
These are the words from a 16 year-old student during a panic attack, while she white knuckled her way through an honors algebra class only yesterday. And this flood of both physical and mental pain didn’t happen only once; it happened 8 times during a single day. And it occurs day after day.
Panic, anxiety and depression has reached an epidemic level amongst teens and even children as young as kindegarten in America. Many parents and schools are either unable to fully understand the breadth and depth of the problem or sometimes believe anxiety is being used as an excuse for lagging academic performance or that the child is being lazy and using anxiety as a blanket excuse.
However, the growing problem of panic, anxiety and depression is not a student making an excuse to under-perform. It’s not because your child is weak, watches too much TV, plays too many video games or is online all the time.
From my research I’ve identified that most anxiety stems from a breakdown in self-esteem, a lack of authentic communication within families and a staggering amount of pressure on adolescents to succeed in a 24/7 world where they are bombarded relentlessly by conflicting messages of what “achievement” looks like. Our youth are so busy “doing” they are not “being” teens. Many teens strive for perfection and anything less feels like “failure” to them.
I will often ask parents, “After you come home from work what do you do?” For most, they tend to their families and make dinner, but at some point, relax with a good book or do something of their choosing. For today’s student, they go to school for seven hours and most have an after school activity--mainly because they are told its required to get into college. Following their activity, its back home where they are met with hours of homework, which often takes them deep into the night, often past midnight.
Most parents are asleep while their child is working. Then the cycle repeats the next day with an exhausted student who ends up beating himself or herself up when they can’t achieve the grade they worked so hard to reach. They spend their days weighted with the knowledge that if they aren’t perfect they will ultimately fall short of getting into a decent college = failure.
This cycle must end. As a result of living in a pressure cooker, teens are looking for ways to cope and unfortunately those ways can be terminal. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens, 43% of teens have been the victim of cyberbullying, and almost 50% of high school seniors have abused a drug of some kind.
Once the high school student moves on to college, the struggle continues with 57.2% taking prescription drugs; 40% of those for anxiety, depression and stress. These numbers barely scratch the surface of what I’ve uncovered in my research.
It’s time for schools and parents to say “enough.” We are losing children to suicide and drug and alcohol abuse at an alarming rate and for what? This is why PP4T was formed. We are mothers, educators and most importantly, parents of children who have experienced not only the pain, but also the societal stigma of anxiety, panic and depression.
Our goal is to educate and help parents and teens navigate the path through adolescence in a less painful, more authentic way through insightful education that will provide you the one thing you yearn right now--hope.