Here is the full transcript of Megan Shinnick’s TEDx Talk: The Truth About Teen Depression at TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet conference.
About a month ago today, I sat on the edge of my hospital bed, and I asked myself the simple question, “Why?”
I had worked for years to be where I was, a young social activist, who co-created two successful non-profit organizations, a good student, and an even better friend, and a girl who never lacked positivity nor energy. I asked myself why. I had ignored what was going on in my head for so long, simply to maintain this reputation.
I had already accomplished so much in my life, when strange things began happening to me. When even though I was incredibly academically motivated in the past, I couldn’t seem to do homework, and I removed myself from friends, I didn’t answer my phone for a week, and I refused to go to school, and getting out of my bed in the morning seemed impossible.
Now, looking back, I realize that I had to redefine what success was. Because if everything I’d done in my life, leading up to that point, deemed me successful, why was I siting in the hospital? I realize that my ability to find this new normal, my ability to adapt to this new-found empathy, that’s what made me successful. Being got diagnosed with clinical depression is what it took for me to realize what success was.
Though I could go on, I’m not here to simply tell you all about my story. I am here to tell you why I think this is happening not only to me but to a dangerous number of teenagers in this country. A statistics that is increasing every year and why each one of you needs to advocate for programs and schools for teens that are suffering from depression and anxiety.
Depression in our society is not obvious when you are walking down the street or the hallway, but simply open your laptops, your smartphones, your tablets, and do maybe one Google search, and you will be blown away. After my one Google search, I found that after a study conducted in this spring, 16 million Tumblr blogs were examined and of those, 200,000 contained pictures, videos, and text posts of teenagers hurting themselves due to depression.
Is it because we now have the technology to express an ever-present feeling or is it something greater? Is it just a coincidence that school systems and standardized tests are getting harder and college acceptance rates are going down, and the pressures to be stereotypical men or women are everywhere? Is it possible that we, that this society, is the thing responsible for the increasing disease that is more than capable of killing?
And we don’t talk about it much because it is often deemed a phase, or hormones, or being overemotional. Oftentimes, conversations regarding mental illnesses such as depression result in words being thrown around that are nearly irrelevant. Depression is not the emotion sadness. Depression is a state of being below neutrality.
Sadness is an emotion that comes and goes just as happiness does. My biggest pet peeve is when someone comes up and says something along the lines of: “I’m sorry, I was just depressed earlier, I’m so depressed right now.” Depression does not just come and go, it’s there. And it is the third largest cause of death among teenagers in this country. 4,400 kids commit suicide a year, and for every one of those, at least 100 attempt.
So now, I am standing here asking you all the same simple question I asked myself when I was in the hospital: why? But this time it’s: “Why we are not doing more to prevent this?”
My school has a Bridge program for kids that are transitioning in from an extended absence. Many of us had suffered from severe depression and severe anxiety, and many of us said the program had saved our lives because it puts our mental health first. How can we be expected to be successful in life and go to a good college, and have a good career, if the pressure is too overwhelming, and we don’t even finish high school?
“Bridge” talks to our parents, teachers, anyone we need to know what is going on in order to help us cope. The Bridge team consists of an academic coordinator who has the weirdest taste in music, like this guy is either listening to Bob Marley or tribal music, there is really none in between. We have a mental health specialist who is obsessed with mini butterfingers. An intern who is insanely good at bananagrams, and another intern who, though is very smart and goes to Harvard, has yet to advance past two songs on the guitar this year.
But even so, this four people have become a both necessary and life changing asset in mine and other Bridge students’ lives. I am here to ask you all a quick favor, a quick favor to advocate to schools, advocate to your school boards for these programs. Because when I was in the mental hospital, I met a girl, we can call her Jane, and Jane had been there for weeks and I’d never met someone who understood what I was going through, and now I know that she felt the exact pain, had the exact fear as me, she had been there for weeks, it was her third hospitalization and her school had no support for her.
I told her about Bridge, and she was blown away that something like that existed. We shouldn’t have to wait for this statistics to get higher, and the number of teens to skyrocket, because if we have the power to raise 100 million dollars in a month for ALS, we have the power to advocate to schools for programs.
I’m in the process of creating another non-profit organization which provides schools with funding necessary to create these programs for teens. So please be on the lookout for that. But in the meantime, if you don’t have depression or if you don’t know anyone who does, advocate for the 10% to 15% of our society that are suffering from this disease. We are so blessed to live in a country where our voices, our voices are meant to be heard, and they actually mean something.
So if just some of you, who listen to me talk today, advocate to your school boards and beg, plead, demand that programs are set up, and maybe you start a petition, and it’s for school funder’s support, whatever you do, just do something, the impact would be life changing. Together, we can fight this disease that is controlling so many of us. And if you’re out there, you’re dealing with the depression, turn the energy that you have towards hatred for this awful thing into energy for change. Because together we can fight back, and we can’t let it win, we can’t let depression win anymore. It’s time to fight back.