Being young is always a confusing time, whether you battle mental illness or not. If you do battle mental illness, you may not even realize that you have a condition and that help is available for that condition. I think about that a lot as I prepare to become a father myself.
People who knew me growing up might have referred to me as shy or sensitive, instead of recognizing my social anxiety and depression. Now, looking back, I suspect my father had his own battles, but he wasn’t getting help. I wish he had, for perhaps then he might have seen the darkness within me. And yet, I ask myself, will I be able to recognize the same struggles in my daughter when she comes? If mental illness has a genetic component, and I pass it on to my daughter, will I be ready?
I came of age as cell phones grew from boxy behemoths into mini-supercomputers in our pockets, an age when connection became easier even as my mental illness made it harder. Then came the age of social media, when everyone’s highlight reels were posted for the world to see and my darkness convinced me I could never compare. What will my soon-to-be daughter have to grow up with?
Unfortunately, mental illness convinced me that this was just how I was meant to be. Youth is when we are meant to learn how to socialize, how to problem-solve, and how to grow into functioning adults. And although I may now be a high functioning individual with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, there are still times when I simply don’t function, in part, because I never learned how to function when I was young.
And yet, I have hope for the youth of the next generation as they face their own battles. More people are speaking up. Social media creates a new battlefield, but it can also be a balm, a tool that helps educate the youth and connect them with others who have faced their own battles. And I believe that if we can connect with the youth who are just beginning their battles, that we can start to turn the tide of the war heading into the next generation.
Put more simply, our youth are full of hope. And so am I.