I have a history of high-functioning anxiety and postpartum depression in my past. One of my biggest fears, especially in today’s society, is that this will be passed on to my children.
I was never formally diagnosed with high-functioning anxiety or postpartum depression, but for all intents and purposes, it is something that I know I have struggled with and did struggle with, respectively, on a daily basis. Knowing that these types of mental illnesses are genetic, one of my biggest fears as a mother is that this part of me will pass down to my daughters.
If my children were born 10 years earlier, I don’t think I would have the same fears of mental illness and subsequently, suicidal tendencies, that I do now. When I was growing up, mental illness was not discussed and it was never something talked about in terms of children, pre-teens, or teens unless their behavior was so extreme that outside help was absolutely necessary. But now, and rightly so, children are more aware of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety as it is something that is discussed in the media and by parents as a way to open the conversation about mental illness.
In addition to more open conversations about mental illness in the child population, there is also the increase of social media and technology. Research has found that the increase of social media and the availability of technology has a direct correlation between increased rates of depression and anxiety in pre-teens and teens. In addition to this, research has also found that watching television or other forms of media at a young age increases the likelihood that a child is bullied. Consequently, bullying is one of the reason some children resort to suicide.
Since 2007, suicide by children has increased by 56%. It is one of the top 3 killers of children ages 10 to 14 years old. There are a gamete of reasons why this increased may have happened including social media, access to information, technology use, less outdoor play and socialization, the standardization of schooling, cyberbullying, and others. Although those are all contributing factors to a child growing to become a bully or to be bullied himself, mental illness plays a strong role in whether or not a child has suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
And this is where my personal fear comes in. I think of myself as a pre-teen and teenage girl. Some of the things I dealt with or experienced were less than ideal. I had some toxic friendships and bad breakups. But all of those happened without everyone posting about it online. Sure, girls spread rumors about me but they weren’t on Instagram for everyone to see. If I wore something completely awful, it wasn’t online for everyone to poke fun at for weeks on end.
There is no doubt that my girls will experience the same kinds of things I experienced. Technology may have changed since I was in high school but one thing hasn’t- mean girls. For those keeping track, we now have a concoction of technology, social media, increased bullying and cyberbullying, suicidal ideation, and mental illness. If I consider all these factors combined it almost creates the perfect storm.
Being a girl is tough during those formative years, and I fear that with the current state of society and all the risk factors combined, that my three girls will one day succumb to the pressures of life. I read the stories about nine- and ten-year-olds taking their own lives and wondering if my children will experience such intense bullying and mental illness that they will fall to the same fate. It is not something I ever considered to have to worry about when my first daughter was born 8 years ago but it is something that weighs heavily on my mind as all three continue to grow older.
The only remedy I see for this pervasive issue of suicide in children is to start with the root of the issue. Bullying prevention in schools almost seems like too little, too late in many instances. Many of those kids have already begun down the path of bullying and now it would just be “uncool” to stop because a school-wide assembly told them to do so.
No, the only remedy for this starts at home. As parents, we need to limit the use of technology. We can say no when they ask for their own social media account or cell phones. We can teach them empathy and kindness. We can help them learn the markers for mental illness in themselves and others. It is our job to change things for our children. But we have to work as a collective whole. We have to make this world safe for our kids, and it starts with us teaching them how to be good humans to one another.