Coming into the 21st century, America has made tremendous progress regarding its treatment, appreciation, and understanding of mental health and mental illness. Nevertheless, the "land of the free" still has quite a ways to go regarding its cultural understanding and, furthermore, its treatment of the millions who bravely admit to suffering from a psychological illness. This is especially true when referring to America's tendency of stigmatizing and discriminating against those whom they simply do not understand. With that in mind, there is perhaps no other mental illness that is more misunderstood or misrepresented than depression.
Depression: Understanding vs. Stigmatization
The first thing we - the American people - need to understand about depression, lies within its clinical classification as a disease. Depressive disorders are a severe type of mental illness, NOT a psychosomatic "choice" that is made by those who are too weak to handle life's adversity.
In reality, those who are stigmatized for their depression are exceptionally courageous and mentally tough individuals for having lived with a debilitating disease they were then discriminated against for having been born with. It goes without saying, those brave enough to fight through their depressive disorder are undoubtedly stronger than those who deem them as weak-minded for living with an illness they, themselves, do not understand.
Recognizing the Depression of Troubled Teens (Why You Should Read Between the Lines of Their Negative Behaviors)
Let's be honest, some depressed people are harder to empathize with than others, namely, depressed troubled teenagers. Troubled teenagers are perhaps the most stigmatized and misunderstood demographic in America, even more so than depressed adults. This is due to the fact that depressed troubled teens....well... they have a pension for pissing people off.
Troubled teens are verbally abusive, apathetic, indifferent, selfish, destructive, close-minded, and act as if they have nothing to lose. It's no wonder as to why most people treat out-of-control teenagers as though they are 'less-than,' future nobodies reminiscent of a stereotypical bully you so often see in the movies. However, would people's view, treatment, respect and amount of empathy given to troubled teens change if they were to focus on the 'why's' instead of the superficial, misleading behaviors that troubled youth choose to act on? Unfortunately, troubled teens are generally judged solely by their behavior rather than empathized with for living with internal suffering that they aren't emotionally mature enough to channel healthily.
Let's take a look at the stereotypical bully-archetype who has been overly used by Hollywood since the Regan administration:
Anyone who is a fan of "The Karate Kid," has a special place reserved in their heart for Daniel LaRusso, the heralded, badass-yet-bullied protagonist who ultimately defeats the douchiest and most comically meanspirited, archetypical-bully who just happens to train at the competing dojo of Daniel's. I'm of course referring to Cobra Kai's very own, Johnny Lawrence. Gotta love those shameless 80's cliche's
But for as loved and admired as Daniel LaRusso is to 1980's cinephiles, Johnny Lawrence, the "troubled teen" of the movie, is equally as hated. And boy is it easy to hate that blond-headed, headband-wearin' brat.
But let us ponder: What if the fans of 'Karate Kid' were to find out that underneath all of Johnny Lawrence's brutish and overtly villainous bravado, he was nothing more than a misunderstood 17-year-old kid who was attempting to cover up his deep, dark depression by beating the hell out Daniel in front of his archetypical, 1980's way-too-hot-for-the-nerdy-protagonist but is totally-going-to-end-up-with-him-at-the-end-of-the-movie-anyways, female lead?
Sure, it's easy to hate Johnny at face value while he's demoralizing the unrealistically humble, karate hero played by a young Ralph Macchio, but it's much harder to hate his character if you were to hypothetically peel back the layers of his bully-exterior and were to find a scared, angry, and potentially suicidal, troubled teen who channels his rage by picking on his nerdy, kung-fu literary foil.
While most would still dislike or have a lack of respect for Johnny's character, they would most likely have change of heart and likely even pity him to some extent. On a humanistic level, even the most hardcore Karate Kid fans would be inclined to empathize with Johnny's situation similar to how they empathize with the girl-stealing, baby-faced, Daniel Larusso. After all, what is a depressed troubled teen if not a victim of internal, self-induced bullying, him or herself?
And while we're at it, let us further speculate: What if Daniel LaRusso were to have lived with the personal circumstances that his 'played out 80's cliche-bullying' counterpart, Johnny Lawrence, lived with that made him such a depressed, and therefore angry young man to begin with? Would Danny, the most sympathetic, overly humble martial artist in teen-trouped cinematic history turn out to be an inexcusably mean-spirited 17-year old whose passion for breaking boards was only matched by his love for punching nerds in the face, just as Johnny, his arch-nemesis, had turned out to be?
My point is simple: Troubled teens who act on destructive and anti-social behaviors, like that of Johnny Lawrence, are almost always depressed, insecure, and terrified human beings who are too emotionally demoralized to deal with their inner pain in a fruitful and constructive way. And while troubled teens have a knack for pissing the hell out of adults, don't you think that to empathize with them and their hidden depressive, underlying issues would benefit them, and yourself, more than retaliating and matching their hostile, disrespectful attitude with your own?
Which brings us to the next point of the article:
How to Empathize With Depressed Troubled Teens
Now, even if you are not a parent of a depressed, out-of-control troubled teen, it's still just as critical for you to understand the importance of empathizing with a troubled teenage boy or girl, rather than simply judging them based on their negative behaviors (AKA the release valve for their hidden internal pain).
While a significant percentage of the people who read this article might not be parents of a troubled teenager, themselves, they will undoubtedly personally know or at least come into contact with a troubled teen on occasion. Whether it be a brother, sister, a friend's child, a nephew, niece or some random punk that disrespects them in front of their wife or husband on the street, choosing to empathize with a troubled teen can bring about difference and possibly even save a promising, albeit troubled, life.
The only reason I even mention this is due to the tragic fact that suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among teens, many of whom are stigmatized as being 'troubled youth.' Needless to say, if more people were able to change their perception of how they view and treat troubled teens, then perhaps we could save the lives of countless future misunderstood and depressed young men and women.
Parents of Depressed Troubled Teens: Changing Cultural Perception of Depressed Troubled Teens Starts With You!
As we've discussed, recognizing depression as a clinical illness is especially critical when referring to a depressed troubled teenager. If you happen to be the parent of a clinically depressed child, be sure to act on empathy over apathetic frustration when disciplining your son or daughter. Whenever you lose sight of the situation at hand, remind yourself to appreciate the pain your child is unwillingly going through.
If your child is acting out in negative behaviors, choose love over punishment. In other words, don't punish them based on your reactive need to get back at them for causing you frustration. Rather, empathize and provide your child with consequences designed to help them overcome their behavioral issues. An example of this would include enrolling your child into a residential treatment facility designed to therapeutically treat their severe, psychological illness.
An example of acting counter-productively, however, would be to send your depressed child to a disciplinary boot camp - which has no therapeutic value whatsoever, and almost always makes matters extensively worse - to punish them for their inability to properly, or maturely, handle their depression (AKA: acting on out of control behaviors).
It's crucial to understand and empathize with your child's mental illness. After all, those who suffer from depression have little or no control over the sad, anxious, hopeless, helpless, guilty, irritable, or angry feelings with which they were biologically dealt. Rather, their only behavioral choice comes from having to decide on how they should handle the inherent symptoms of their in-born, psychological maladies.
Consequently- due to its motivational-killing nature- having depression makes it all the more difficult to make decisions that will bring about positivity in one's life. The more depressed a person is the more difficult it becomes for them to rise above their in-born illness, which, in turn, causes them to act on self-sabotaging behaviors that exacerbate their pain even further, thus creating a self-destroying feedback loop from hell.
Sound familiar, parents of troubled teens?
Depression: The Serial Killer of Mental Illnesses
Another critical truth that our nation needs to recognize comes from the sheer number of depressed people that live in it. It may surprise you to know that as many as 50,000,000 American citizens experience clinical depression on a daily basis. When a country's number of depressed people outnumbers the entire population of South Korea - Tens of millions of men, women, and children who suffer from a mental illness that has the potential to kill them if left un- or mistreated - we, as a society, have a massive problem that is beyond epidemic.
Regardless of our collective, personal misperceptions of depression, we must logically succumb to the overwhelming evidence that suggests our nation requires more therapeutic assistance from our Government. With the severity and the sheer number of peoples affected by our nation's mental health crisis, is it insane - or god forbid, Un-American - to suggest that we should divert a small portion of our military's annual budget of $600 billion dollars to help out those who desperately require mental health treatment? At the very least, shouldn't we be empathetic to one-fifth of our country's population by treating their mental illness as a disease that requires clinical treatment, just like we would with a physical ailment?
Which brings us to America's most devastating concern regarding its culture's misunderstanding of clinical depression... it's murdering us.
Apart from being the most commonly misunderstood and stigmatized mental illness, depression takes the lives of over 20,000 Americans each and every year. What's worse, a little over 20% of suicides are committed by young people between the ages of 10 and 24. This averages out to roughly one teenage and young adult suicide occurring every two hours.
IN CONCLUSION, America could save countless lives by making simple - albeit critical- changes in regards to how it treats mental illness - especially when referring to the mental illness of troubled teens. Obviously, America needs to improve upon its misconceived and outdated perceptions of depression, and most importantly, give those who suffer the credit, support, and above all, the love they deserve.
My fellow Americans, we need to finally recognize the severity of mental illness and come to terms with the fact that 20,000 young lives are weighing in the balance while we wait for change to happen. We should let each tick of the clock remind us that, unless we take it upon ourselves to change the world we live in, lives, a large portion of which happen to be children, are dying from a highly treatable disease that we already have the cure for... empathy.
To quote profound words from a man much wiser than myself:
"If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him... We do not wait to see what others do."
- Mahatma Gandhi