We are taught to believe that children who have a good home are not supposed to suffer from mental illnesses. This stigma still lives with us because we view mental health as a norm, it’s not something that you can see in a person by looking. Society’s negative perception of mental illness leads to denial and neglect, especially of those who aren’t aware of what it means to be depressed; children.
When I was ten, I was on the verge of clinical depression. I don’t remember very much of that time, but I do remember the wet pillow that I would wake up against. I spent my time being alone because I thought no one wanted to be with me. I thought no one noticed how sad I was, because no one tried to help me. I had come to accept that it was the way I would have to live.
My depression was prompted by something that many are quite familiar with: changing schools. I had to make new friends, move to a new environment and get to know new teachers. What was especially difficult for me about the move was changing school systems. It wasn’t just a change from a private system to public one or in the teaching methods; it was a change in absolutely everything. I’d gone from a small Swedish school to a huge American school. I had to start speaking English all the time, wear a PE uniform, adhere to a dress code and buy my own lunch. But the worst thing was way too old to be there. There were many things that were reminiscent of preschool; sitting on the floor, singing songs and bringing snack boxes for recess. And wearing flats instead of sneakers and dresses instead of a skort made me feel like the most mature student in the class, but in the worst way possible. The first day of the fifth grade felt like a day I had already experienced, the first day of school.
My misadventures were foreshadowed by my first interaction with the new school. On the first day, when I stepped on the lower school bus and the driver told me to go on the middle school-bus. Only after cross-checking my name with his list did he believe that I was in fifth grade.
I was constantly picked on for being different. My teacher told me to wear more durable clothes to play in, but I didn’t want to play. My classmates asked me why I changed out of my PE uniform after PE, I explained to them that I didn’t want to wear the same sweaty clothes all day. My math teacher asked me why I didn’t sing along in her multiplication song, I told her I thought it was childish. No one understood why I acted the way I did, they just tried to make me fit in. I had once been a social kid who was always chatting with my friends, but in my new situation I did whatever I could to avoid everyone. I didn’t want to be with my teachers or classmates, because they just made me feel out of place. I would spend my whole lunch hour in the art room alone, drawing things I found in magazines and the days when the art room was closed, I would go to the library, a place I secretly hated. My teacher told me I was being too antisocial and should spend more time with my classmates. But I didn’t think playing tag was as fun as they did. Trying to ‘fit in’ only reminded me that I couldn’t. It never made me feel better.
I never sought help from my teachers or parents because I thought there was something wrong with me. I was stuck. There was no longer any happiness in my days, they were it was overshadowed by sadness. The word depression had circulated my mind, but I never believed that I was depressed. In my mind, depression was something for alcoholics and lunatics, not for ten year-olds. I was wrong. That was exactly what I was, depressed.
Today, six years later, I can’t understand how the school system could allow this. How teachers could watch me suffer and cry in school without doing anything. They ignored my parents’ entreaty that I be moved up a grade. They dismissed it as a ‘phase’ and that I would get accustomed to my new situation, but why should I have had to get used to acting six when I was ten? No one ever considered my state as depression because I was a child. In fact, no one acknowledged my state of depression until this year. That my time spent in time in American school is a part of my life that I never talk about; the mere thought of it makes me cry. Depression is something that many suffer from but it is rarely dealt with by the adults in the social structures around children.
After a long conflict between my parents and the principals, I was eventually allowed to switch into Middle school. My health didn’t improve immediately, but it was a drastic change for the better. There were consequences switching jumping? up a grade, in the American school system there is a lot you learn in fifth grade which is essential for moving on to middle school. There was a lot that I missed. I had difficulties with grammar, long division and a lot of the English vocabulary I needed for my subjects. How can schools’ inability to deal with depression affect the learning of students? Why are schools not fit to take care of its main subject matter, the students? Schools need to implement plans for recognizing and coping with mental health issues now. Why do we have counselors and school psychologists and still kids suffer from mental illness? Why is it that the school counselor never talked to me when she saw how sad I was, even though that’s their main work task?
I can only hope that in the future, kids that suffer from depression are taken care of and are not neglected like I was.
Depression is not something we can never escape, it is not a disease; it’s a temporary symptom of being human. Depression is very different person-to-person, if it stems from a problem at home, it is often very deeply rooted in the family. But if, as in my case, it’s because of a school’s inability to take care of their students, depression can be easily avoided or eased. We can help each other get through it. By raising awareness and reducing the taboo around mental illnesses, institutions will not be as ignorant, and understand how to help. Because mental illness is not something you can cure yourself, it is something rooted in an aspect of your life. A person should never have to face depression alone, and especially not a ten-year-old. If you do feel that you could be depressed, don’t be afraid to say it. Don’t believe you’re alone in this, because truth is, one in five adolescents suffer from same thing you do. Don’t believe that no one wants to help you, because there are people around you that want to help.