From a young age, many of us are encouraged to be a leader. This is not always easy or does not always come naturally to everyone. When thinking about starting a movement, the first thing that can come to mind is that there must be someone leading the movement. However, the power to create a movement is not in leadership alone but also in the followers and both need courage and empathy to succeed.
Every one of us, regardless of age, can be witnesses to truth, life, love, with courage and empathy helping to bring about a culture that protects and cares for others especially the marginalized. All it takes is a movement of love and that movement begins with the courage to be a leader or the courage to be a follower along with empathy for fellow human beings. Both of these roles are needed for a movement, without followers, the leader is just alone and without empathy we do not have true connection.
Both a leader and a follower must have the courage to stand out and be ridiculed. Why? Because a leader has to publicly stand in front of others and demonstrate something contrary to what is going on around them and the first follower risks the same to join. If the follower is embraced as an equal, if the leader demonstrates passion and drive to inspiring onlookers then the follower begins to invite others to join in the same spirit and this is when the “lone nut” becomes the leader of a movement. However, it must be said that it is the followers courage that births a movement.
Courage is required to create a movement. Having social courage means willing to risk embarrassment or exclusion, unpopularity or rejection by peers when you stand up for what is true and good.
Intellectual Courage means having the willingness to challenge ideas, question thinking and tell the truth at the risk of making mistakes or going against the crowd.
Emotional courage means being empathetic. This means having the willingness to feel with and for others when you see they are struggling and need someone to see and hear them when they are hurting rather than trying to put a silver lining on things. Empathy is equally as important to courage. One empowers you to stand in the arena of life the other allows you to connect to those who want to stop being bystanders but have not yet learned to follow. Be The Change.
This is a very dangerous time for young people. The pressure to be “hot,” social media relevant, get good grades, be in advanced college prep courses and juggle relationships in school is what we think of when we think about what pressures lead to anxiety and depression. However, this generation has the added weight of dealing with peer pressure and bullying 24/7. Gone are the days when you could get on a bus and escape your bully. Now, (thanks to the internet) bullying goes on 24/7 and with smartphones, it follows them no matter where they go.
We can see the real, tangible and undeniable effects of bullying in this video that IKEA put out showing a school that set up two identical plants. Both were given sunlight and water. The difference was one was set up on top of a speaker speaking bulling messages the other received affirming and complimenting messages over a 30 day period. The results were undeniable. One was wilting and dying and the other was flourishing. If we can see the effect of bullying and the power of negative words on a plant image how they effect people much less young people. With depression, many of us take those words and bully ourselves by allowing the words to play over and over in our minds.
While mental illness is far less stigmatized than it used to be, there still seems to be a lack of awareness or support systems in the schools to be proactive in addressing and caring for mental health. In fact, it seems to takes a back seat to grade point average, personal achievement and athletic performance.
But does it matter how fit or attractive you are, how academically successful you become or what spiritual practices you do if at the end of the day you decide to end your life because the worst thing you can imagine doing is living another day? This is a the reality for many of our youth.
According to the Mayo Clinic depression is defined as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It affects how you feel, think and behave making normal day-to-day activities difficult and sometimes a person may feel life isn’t worth living.
These stats were put out by suicide.org, teen and adolescent suicides and the amount of kids dealing with depression continued to rise dramatically in recent years. Consider these alarming figures:
Every 100 minutes a teen takes their own life.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.
About 20 percent of all teens experience before they reach adulthood.
Between 10 to 15 percent suffer from symptoms at any one time.
Only 30 percent of depressed teens are being treated for it.
Some teens are more at risk for depression and suicide than others. These are known factors:
Female teens develop depression twice as often than males.
Abused and neglected teens are especially at risk.
Adolescents who suffer from chronic illnesses or other physical conditions are at risk.
Teens with a family history of depression or mental illness: between 20 to 50 percent of teens suffering from depression have a family member with depression or some other mental disorder.
Teens with untreated mental or substance-abuse problems: approximately two-thirds of teens with major depression also battle another mood disorder like dysthymia, anxiety, antisocial behaviors, or substance abuse.
Young people who experienced trauma or disruptions at home, including divorce and deaths of parents.
If that was not enough to sound the alarm, enter in the Pandemic, lockdown and resulting isolation that was imposed upon millions of our youth at a time in their life where every sociologist and psychologists say are the most important developmental years thus depriving them of the life experiences and connections that provide social and emotional learning opportunities needed for mental health.
The impact of the quarantine on mental health was brought to the forefront when Bo Burnham, who became hugely famous uploading his comedic piano performances onto Youtube, creating an entire performance using footage from his small apartment over a series of months. He created what is now known as the Netflix special “Inside” which documents his observations on life particularly, his anxiety and depression. In fact, he posted an image online to show how he had transitioned from coping somewhat successfully with his mental health issues to not coping and in fact spiraling downward.
While much of his work can be seen by some as irreverent, it seems the younger generation LOVE his music and his specials on Netflix. Never heard of him? Go ask someone who is under 30 and dealing with their own mental health issues, I bet they tell you they can sing his songs word for word. Why is that? because they see his work as see it as a performance art giving us a view into his experience as a person living with depression and anxiety. Perhaps it is his vulnerably raw performances that draws so many to his work. The lines from one of his songs in the Netflix special “Inside” gives us insight into a man struggling with mental health issues while in isolation.
“So, um, uh, my current mental health is, is rapidly Approaching, uh, an ATL, which is, uh, that’s an all-time low Not, not Atlanta And you know, I feel okay when I’m asleep Like, when I’m asleep I feel alright But it’s basically From the moment I wake up, I, uh, I just get thisFeeling in my body, way down deep inside me I try not to fight it (describe it!) Alright A few things starts to happen My vision starts to flatten My heart, it gets to tapping, and I think I’m gonna dieYeah, so, uh, yeah, not, not doing great“-‘All Time Low Song’
This may be a dangerous time for young people but it is also one of the most informative times. Now more than ever we have so many resources at our fingertips to get help and support. Bo Burnham has used his performance art to process and find connection and support while encouraging others to know they are not alone and to not be afraid to show others that they are struggling with mental health issues like anxiety ad depression.
Being able to tell their story is a predominant theme in addressing mental health issues in young people so that they do not become a statistic. Unfortunately we have already established that schools need resources to create opportunities for them to feel safe enough to make the connections. The is where Dignity Revolution comes in. It is An Evidence Based Curriculum coupled with a Teacher Training that gives teachers and staff the tools, activities, knowledge and training to provide a safe space and opportunity to for youth to speak about their own social and emotional health. It also can be paired with an amazing school assembly experience in which personal testimony and an illusionist take center stage to awaken the hearts and minds of youth and adult alike to see the value of every person. Ever person matters.
Thankfully, there is a budget for bringing in programs on diversity training and suicide prevention and Dignity Revolution satisfies the requirements of both. There are also many State and Federal grants to offer support after covid for our youth which would provide the monies to cover this program. They are a secular, non-profit organization dedicating to bringing the message of dignity and and value to every human being so if cost is an issue, do not let it be. They will help you find a way! If teachers need to have in service days at school helping them to continue their training and expertise for the students, shouldn’t one of those days be for social and emotional well being? Rather than assemblies on suicide awareness or how to hide from a school shooter, wouldn’t it be an even more powerful assembly if your message spoke to the kid BEFORE they acted on their pain, anger and despair? After all, I learned in college that depression is anger turned inwards which would explain how violence in schools is related to mental health and depression.
Perhaps another way forward, post pandemic, is helping our kids become upstanders instead of bystanders. To empower our kids to know, as an experience not know as a concept, how to make a connection with someone they see that is hurting or in need of help BEFORE that person becomes violent or self-harms. That would be make our schools safer and would empower an entire generation! Imagine learning how to deal with mental health issues starting in kindergarten all the way to graduation. It would not only transform our schools it would transform our families, our culture and even our world.
I challenge you to look into Dignity Revolution. It does not matter if you are a student, parent, teacher or neighbor. If you are a hear the value of this message to transform the culture of our schools than begin the process to bring us into your school by clicking the link. Perhaps you want to take the Dignity Pledge and share your story with us. It does not matter if you do this anonymously or if you use your name the important thing is that you find a way to share your story with someone who will listen. Then go out and be a messenger of hope and healing by listening to other peoples stories After all, wouldn’t we all want to listen to someone’s story rather than attend their funeral?