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How to Talk to Your Crush (AND Get Her Number!)
It was 2 in the morning, and as her parents slept, she sat on the edge of the tub at her home outside Bangor, Maine, with a metal clip from a pen in her hand. Then she sliced into the soft skin near her ribs. There was blood—and a sense of deep relief. Many days she felt ill before school. It would be three years before Faith-Ann, now 20 and a film student in Los Angeles, told her parents about the depth of her distress. On paper, she had a good life. For Faith-Ann, cutting was a secret, compulsive manifestation of the depression and anxiety that she and millions of teenagers in the U. Self-harm, which some experts say is on the rise, is perhaps the most disturbing symptom of a broader psychological problem: Adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up. But a closer look paints a far more heartbreaking portrait of why young people are suffering. Anxiety and depression in high school kids have been on the rise since after several years of stability. Family financial stress can exacerbate these issues, and studies show that girls are more at risk than boys. In , about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2 million report experiencing depression that impairs their daily function. For a limited time, TIME is giving all readers special access to subscriber-only stories. For complete access, we encourage you to become a subscriber. Still, the number of distressed young people is on the rise, experts say, and they are trying to figure out how best to help. Teen minds have always craved stimulation, and their emotional reactions are by nature urgent and sometimes debilitating. The biggest variable, then, is the climate in which teens navigate this stage of development. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society. In my dozens of conversations with teens, parents, clinicians and school counselors across the country, there was a pervasive sense that being a teenager today is a draining full-time job that includes doing schoolwork, managing a social-media identity and fretting about career, climate change, sexism, racism—you name it. Every fight or slight is documented online for hours or days after the incident. Then the girl stopped posting. Daniel Champer, the director of school-based services for Intermountain in Helena, Mont. A suicide might happen on the other side of the state and the kids often know before the adults, says Champer. This makes it hard for counselors to help. In the olden days, your mom told you to get off the family phone or turn off the TV, and you did it. Parents are also mimicking teen behavior. Here are the rules about when we use it. School pressures also play a role, particularly with stress. Nora got counseling for her anxiety, which became crushing as the college-application process ramped up. And now anxiety has overtaken that in the last couple of years. He recently became a finalist for prestigious scholarships, all while working 10 to 15 hours a week at a Microsoft internship and helping to care for his younger brothers. Ellen Chance, co-president of the Palm Beach School Counselor Association, says technology and online bullying are affecting kids as early as fifth grade. The strain on school counselors has increased since No Child Left Behind standardized testing protocols were implemented in the past decade. I deal with it on a weekly basis. But now, even though teens may be in the same room with their parents, they might also, thanks to their phones, be immersed in a painful emotional tangle with dozens of their classmates. Phoebe Gariepy says she remembers being in the backseat of a car with her headphones on, sitting next to her mom while looking at disturbing photos on her phone on social-media feeds about cutting. She says it was hard to get out of that online community, as gory as it was, because her online life felt like her real life. Josh, who did not want his real name published, is a high school sophomore in Maine who says he remembers how his parents began checking on him after the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 children and six adults. Teens who end up there are often sent by administrators at their school. When Haddad calls the parents, they can be unaware of just how distressed their child is. One mother whose child Haddad treated told him that she found out her daughter had 17 Facebook accounts, which the mother shut down. Bret says Faith-Ann had been making cuts on her legs and ribs for three years before she got the courage to tell her parents. Looking back, he realizes that he was distracted too much of the time. When Bret and Tammy joined a group for parents of kids with depression, he discovered that there were many girls and some boys who were also depressed and hurting themselves, and that few parents had any idea of what was going on. All of the nearly two dozen teens I spoke with for this story knew someone who had engaged in self-harm or had done it themselves. While girls appear more likely to engage in this behavior, boys are not immune: The academic study of this behavior is nascent, but researchers are developing a deeper understanding of how physical pain may relieve the psychological pain of some people who practice it. That knowledge may help experts better understand why it can be hard for some people to stop self-harming once they start. Whitlock, the director of the self-injury research program at Cornell, explains that studies are pretty consistent in showing that people who injure themselves do it to cope with anxiety or depression. The idea that self-harm is tied to how we see the human body tracks with what many teens told me when I interviewed them. Whitlock says there are two common experiences that people have with self-harm. There are those who feel disconnected or numb. On the other end of the spectrum are people who feel an overwhelming amount of emotion, says Whitlock. The research on what happens in the brain and body when someone cuts is still emerging. Scientists want to better understand how self-harm engages the endogenous opioid system—which is involved in the pain response in the brain—and what happens if and when it does. Similarly, those who want to stop need a strong level of internal motivation. You have to figure it out for yourself. You have to make the choice. By then she was a junior in high school. I lifted my arm to move my hair, and she saw it. It was scary because the cuts were in a place that people associate with suicide. The family got counseling after that. And Faith-Ann learned breathing techniques to calm herself physically and how to talk to herself positively. There were relapses, sometimes over tiny things. But the Bishops were on the right road. One of the most powerful things Faith-Ann did to escape the cycle of anxiety, depression and self-harm was to channel her feelings into something creative. As part of the Project Aware teen program in Maine, she wrote and directed a short film about anxiety and depression in teens called The Road Back. More than 30 kids worked on the project, and they became a support system for one another as she continued to heal. This straightforward acknowledgment of their struggles takes away any judgment, which is critical since mental-health issues are still heavily stigmatized. No adolescent wants to be seen as flawed or vulnerable, and for parents, the idea that their child has debilitating depression or anxiety or is self-harming can feel like a failure on their part. For both generations, admitting that they need help can be daunting. Even once they get past that barrier, the cost and logistics of therapy can be overwhelming. Faith-Ann still struggles at times with depression and anxiety. They now live in Hampstead, N. If she was having trouble coping, he and Tammy were a long plane ride away. For more on help for teen mental-health issues, visit time.
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