There’s been a lot of talk recently concerning youth mental health. It’s become more of a concern over the last few years, which is great! According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately 10-20% of all youths in Canada are affected by a mental illness or disorder. As a recent former Teen With Mental Illness, I feel as though I have some knowledge of the territory. As such, I’d like to talk about some of the experiences that come with being diagnosed with a mental illness early on in life. Some of these will still be relatable to people who were diagnosed later on in life, but I think they’re especially important to talk about with youths.

A big part of growing up is figuring out who you are, and what you aspire to be. This can be difficult for youth with mental illness to deal with. The concept that you haven’t always been this way is hard to grasp. The sense of self that you normally develop in your teens is harder to find. It’s difficult to try and figure out what your passions are when getting out of bed in the morning is a huge task all on its own. While most teens think about their goals in life, your goal is to make it through the school day without some sort of mental breakdown. Finding out what college or university to apply to is pushed to the back of your mind while you’re worrying about completing volunteer hours and trying to come up with a fresh, new excuse as to why you’ve been absent from school for the past three weeks. In general, it’s hard to think about your future when you’re not even sure that you’ll make it that far.

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There are lots of expectations and milestones that come as you’re shoved into your teenaged years. Getting a driver’s license, having relationships, graduating high school, and deciding on future plans can be a daunting task, especially with mental illness. A lack of any one of these things happening can be embarrassing, shameful, and othering, which is a nightmare for any adolescent. This is a time when wanting to be accepted, in any capacity, is at an all time high. For example, I am extremely anxious about driving. As a result, I didn’t get my G1 after I turned sixteen, like most of my friends and classmates did. This felt very embarrassing to me. Eight months later, I was stuck walking, taking the bus, and getting rides with my parents, while my friends were having fun driving. I started making up excuses as to why I never got my license, or just not mentioning it in conversations at all. And while I finally got my G1 in grade 12, and my G2 last year, I’m still incredibly anxious about driving.

School can also be a huge stressor for many teens. An example of this is when I chose to do my schooling at home due to anxiety. Before that, going to school everyday was an almost Herculean-level task. Just thinking about going to school gave me anxiety attacks, leading me to have an incredible number of absences. I was ashamed that I couldn’t go to school normally like everyone else, and, too embarrassed to tell my classmates and friends, I withdrew from them almost entirely, save for a few. My mental health went down the tubes, and it was a hard climb back up. Going back to school the next semester was awkward, and I rarely brought it up afterwards. And while a few teachers were very understanding of my situation, most were misinformed. A handful of them were even downright rude and unsympathetic to my struggles with mental illness, despite the school branding itself as a safe and positive environment. Many people reminisce about high school, but I believe the majority these days are happy to leave it behind.
There’s been lots of progress in raising awareness in the past few years, but we still have a long ways to go. Many other things come with being diagnosed with mental illness early, but I hope I’ve touched on a few of the more prominent ones. At the end of the day, being a teenager is a weird, exciting, and terrifying experience. Being a teenager with mental illness turns adolescence into another experience entirely, and without change, support, and understanding, it’s not a positive one.

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About Maddie Katz

Maddie Katz is a recent college graduate. Her interest in mental health started when she was diagnosed in high school. Her other interests lie in writing, music, theatre, and cats.

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