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Shining a light on mental health for National Suicide Prevention Month


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As National Suicide Prevention Month is winding down, it’s important to take a look back. As its status as a taboo is waning, mental health is a topic that has come to the forefront in recent years, and an effort to raise awareness in younger people has appeared in every area from mass media directly down to our school.

This recent surge in awareness has worked to debunk obsolete misrepresentations and myths that media has created for people with mental illnesses, which are seen as a major drawback in the ability for these people to feel socially accepted. Mentally ill people are often depicted in shows, books, and films as dangerous or incompetent; however, according to studies conducted by The New York Times, the mentally ill are only linked to four percent of violent crimes and 11 times as likely to be subjected to one. “Many people gain an unfavorable or inaccurate view of those with psychological disorders simply by skimming a few sentences or picking up a remote control,” Kirstin Fawcett, writer for US News, said.

“We see so much in the media where it comes to mental illness,”Kia Pickett, counselor and sponsor for Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) Club, said. “We’ve seen so much that a lot of people have become desensitized with it.”

Furthermore, mental health has osmosed into music consumed by younger people. Since 2016, many modern musicians have come forward with stories of dealing with mental health issues that have challenged the hush-hush mentality surrounding mental illness. Singer Adele has divulged struggles with postpartum depression, Zayn Malik has opened up about dealing with anxiety, and Lady Gaga has shared an open letter about her PTSD, just to name a few. “If there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that success and adulation never made any human being any more normal,” Marc Marot, UK record executive, said.

Additionally, mental health has worked its way directly into modern artists’ songs in ways that have set some standards and challenged others. The autobiographical and immersive lyricism of the band Twenty One Pilots formed one of the mainstream’s largest vessels for the topic, and rapper Kid Cudi’s transparency about his depression and suicidal urges provided a confessional confrontation of hip-hop’s confidentiality on the topic. Furthermore, a recent and significant example would be “1-800-273-8255”, a suicide prevention song by rapper Logic made in collaboration with the song’s namesake, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL).

The song’s timeliness was demonstrated by the headline-snagging MTV Video Music Awards performance it received, which was a spectacle bolstered further by its boldness in addressing a commonly avoided topic on national television. According to the NSPL, the lifeline saw a 27% rise in calls in the three weeks following the song’s release, and a 50% rise following the MTV performance. “Thank you all so much for giving me a platform to talk about something that mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about,” Logic said.

As mental health has been incorporated more into music, more light is being shed on how much of an impact music has on the mind. It is commonly used as pain/stress-easing therapy, and the proper music transcends sonic qualities and exists as something our souls can resonate to. However, sadder music has been cited as a perilous instigator of negative thoughts and moods; a study published by Frontiers in Human Neuroscience stated that it can trigger anxiety and neuroticism. “Some ways of coping with negative emotion, such as rumination, which means continually thinking over negative things, are linked to poor mental health,” Emily Carlson, music therapist, said.

This recent surge in awareness has been strengthened through numerous public spearheads that have drawn more eyes towards the issue. One of the most noteworthy vanguards is Netflix’s TV adaptation of 13 Reasons Why. Based on the bestselling novel by Jay Asher concerning the motives behind the suicide of a high-school girl, the show made waves when it premiered in March 2017–enough waves to certify the greenlighting of an upcoming second season. Critical reactions to the show fell into a “sensitive/sensationalized” dichotomy. The show was praised for its acting and direction, as well as the maturity of its approach to its subject matter.

13 Reasons Why does an exceptional job of depicting the intense emotions—and formidable social pressures—of adolescence, without condescending to any viewers, whatever their age,” Maureen Ryan, TV critic for Variety, said.

Detractors saw the show as romanticizing suicide, and voiced concerns of its effects on younger audiences, especially since mental health is not explicitly discussed although 90% of adolescent suicides are caused by underlying mental illnesses.

“[The show is] aimed at a young audience, who are particularly susceptible to contagion, and particularly likely to experience suicidal thoughts,” Zoe Williams, columnist for The Guardian, said. “It normalizes and legitimizes the act.”

This raises an important question: where is the line drawn in regards to a comfortable age to begin the dialogue about mental health? Even though 13 Reasons Why carries a TV-MA rating (indicating content unsuitable for people 17 and under) and Netflix has added content warnings before each episode, it’s not guaranteed that this will stop younger audiences from viewing the show. Considering youth and adolescence is a period in life when the brain is still going through significant amounts of development, the show is perceived to potentially have a larger effect on them.

“Adolescence is characterized by increased independence and identity formation,” Mirjana Domakonda, writer for USA Today, said. “Coupled with an underdeveloped ability to reason and plan, adolescents often cannot anticipate the consequences of their actions, and they need continued supervision and support.”

“It’s hitting close to home more than ever now.”

Throughout this month, Niles North has been working to provide tools to help people deal with bettering their lives. Several weeks ago, the school held a series of class-specific presentations (which you can read more about here) that were based around raising awareness for topics such as bullying and bigotry and encouraging positive choices.

In-house groups such as the SADD Club work to help the student body embrace healthy lifestyles, and the school also provides a 24/7 anonymous tipline for reporting bullying and inappropriate activity. “A lot of kids don’t know what to do if they come across [a situation involving mental health],” Pickett said. “Maybe it’s now in their high school years, or even later; we can equip them with warning signs and tips.”

Even though the month is coming to an end, what it stands for is far from falling out of relevance. Mental health is a continually prevalent topic that we as a society and a community are coming closer to addressing with full comfort, and lifting the stigma surrounding it is “the work of a generation”, in the words of Sue Baker, director of British mental health program Time to Change. “[Mental health] is being talked about more, and it’s being highlighted more because there are so many things that are coming out of the shadows,” Pickett said. “We have to deal with it, and because we’re being forced to deal with it, it is more relevant now as a conversation. It’s hitting close to home more than ever now.”

As outdated viewpoints are relinquished in favor of welcoming open-mindedness, important steps towards ending the taboo are being taken each day. We have come a long way and still have a long way to go, but the sun of pigeonholing and prosecution is beginning to set, and a new dawn for mental health is on the horizon.

Resources:

Niles North Anonymous Tipline – 847-626-2308

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line – Text “START” to 741741

Featured image by Jeff Garcia

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Shining a light on mental health for National Suicide Prevention Month