Nobody needs to tell high-schoolers that Depression is a massive problem among their demographic. Nobody needs to tell them by the time they reach college 10-15% of them will experience despair on a level those unaffected cannot fathom . But what they need to hear is: they are not alone.
I'm two years into college and the sensation is still fresh. When I was in high school I remember feeling so isolated. The resulting psychic pain became almost physical. All around me I saw people who seemed happy. People going to parties, getting girlfriends, and having fun chatting in the hallways, while I hustled from one classroom to another hoping I could alleviate some of the pain by doing well in school. I had only a few friends, and for the most part they were as depressed as I was, although I didn't know it at the time. Romance was a punchline to me. How could I consider getting a girlfriend when I hated myself too much to even get out of bed some days? It all seemed meaningless.
Worst of all was the feeling that there was no one who would sympathize with me. My therapist, who I started seeing after years of silent anguish, was the first to speak to me on terms that seemed understanding, almost empathetic. I now had a name with which to identify the creeping illness I had felt in my mind since I was a child: Depression. I then started to find others who suffered as I did, sometimes more, sometimes less. But the degree of suffering didn't matter. I started to have a community.
In our society, talking about depression and mental illness in general is taboo. To bring it up to your parents is hard enough. To share it with friends is, to borrow the popular phrase, "Social Suicide." Every teenager I have ever met has aggressively manicured every part of her Facebook page, drafted all of her text messages ten times before sending it, and agonized over his clothes in order to look as fly as possible. Showing weakness is even more dangerous in high school than among adult company. Putting on a smiley face and joking around with the rest of the bro's, always having fun, is the only model for interaction among teenage boys. We act like everything is fine, but it's not.
If I had known that other guys had depression before my junior year of high school, I think that stage of my life would have been a hundred times better. I would have had support, and a group that understood me. We could have helped each other through our pain. But the irony is an entire group of boys can be depressed and, fully aware of their own suffering, but never pick up on their friends'. This is the sad consequence of male social codes encouraging "nutting up" and not sharing vulnerability.
It is because of this unspoken code that many boys are unable to receive love from each other. But I know from personal experience nothing alleviates one's own pain like hearing of the pain of others. The feeling of belonging, even to a group that suffers, is infinitely beneficial.
As young men we must help each other. If you are hurting you must talk about it. "How are you?” "Not so good," is a perfectly acceptable way of starting a conversation. It may seem awkward at first, but if you do it others will begin to feel comfortable doing so too, and a whole new, much healthier, way of interacting will emerge. Because depression thrives on loneliness, we must take away its nourishment. Spend time with friends who seem to be having trouble. Speak out in your school if doing so will help others. Depression may be a huge problem in high schools but it is getting better because we’re beginning to understand and breakdown the stigma.
If young men, and young women, begin to open up and share their experiences things will get better. The only thing to know is to receive love, one must give it. If that rule is adhered to, the rest will follow.