For the past year I’ve travelled through Andover, Massachusetts and the surrounding towns meeting with afterschool programs, Neuropsychologists, and almost every other professional that helps anxious adolescents. I’ve learned two truths from my time touring these towns:
1: The amount of students with anxiety has skyrocketed in the last five years
2: A better connected community is essential for providing help for anxious adolescents.
Anxiety and depression, which often go hand-in-hand, are psychological issues that tamper with perceptions of reality. Psychology Today describes anxiety as “a feeling that encompasses feelings of worry, nervousness, or dread.” It is a corroding thread that runs through many of our students, affecting their lives academically, socially and emotionally.
As I’ve sat down and learned from over 250 therapists in the area a few common themes arose for the cause of this rise in anxiety.
I was not surprised to find out the real impact that social media is having on teenagers. It is affecting their deeper psychological systems and to the same extent it’s connecting them, it is also detaching them. That’s a scary thought, as technology isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, as far as we can see in our experience at Fusion. See one of our articles here.
One surprising component to the anxiety is how often it’s passed down from parents in different forms. It’s a new and confusing world for parents these days and their difficulty to cope is clear in their children’s “state of excessive uneasiness”. While that wasn’t initially something that surprised me, it was only went I reflected on my own behaviors influenced by my parents that I realized just how skewed my perception was as a result of some of their behavior.
For example, I flew for the first time in 10 years about a month ago and it occurred to me that I had better get to the airport 3 hours early, just in case something went horribly wrong. I constantly looked at my watch as I approach security, waiting for that something to go wrong. I was behaving exactly like I remember my Dad behaving, intense and nervous when we went on a family vacation when I was 16.
Since we can’t just take away our phones or families, what is the solution?
A Connected Community of Support
To have a well-connected community means that we have a community of parents, teachers, coaches, programs and therapists who are well-educated on anxiety and know where to find help.
It also means that communication has to happen when any of the folks in the community become aware of the issue. It means that therapists can communicate with parents and the students to make them aware of enabling and harmful behaviors. It means that, as a community, we normalize the struggles of anxiety and depression and we are all as well equipped to help with anxiety as we are a skinned-knee or a sprained ankle.
It means working together as a community to equip every member with a “mental health First-Aid Kit” to identify and treat differing presentations of anxiety in adolescents. Whether it’s getting them to the right professional, or offering a small but psychologically-sound solution to their current struggles, however significant they are.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to change the world to protect our students, but it does mean we need to be aware of times to push and times to sympathize. This can be accomplished simply by making an effort to be more connected and some light research. For me, that looked like talking with therapists, picking the brains of pediatricians, reading some articles from reputable psychological websites and asking some of our students about their experiences.
So, now what?
This ideal community isn’t accomplished by individuals dividing and conquering, or going back to school to get a PhD in psychology, but by the community constantly searching for meaning and information. As anxiety levels increase, it is quickly becoming our duty to be able to offer help anywhere we can. One hour a week in therapy just doesn’t cut it anymore for all kids.
Connecting with the community around me has opened up my eyes to more than I could have dreamed of and by simply asking questions and practicing empathy, I have equipped myself with enough tools to acknowledge and diagnose when something isn’t right with one of our students. Moreover, I have an entire desk full of resources from after-school programs to neuropsychologists and anyone in between that can help a student find a new passion or invigorate their self-esteem who are available to assist them so when they do hit a speed-bump in life they can slow down, get through it, and continue travelling at reasonable speeds to their destination of success, academically, socially and emotionally.
I’m so grateful to work at Fusion Andover, where we get to be that connected community for our students. We truly build a support team for each child and work to communicate for their best outcome. If you need support in finding the community for your adolescent, I’d love to connect. If you’re not in Andover, there’s over 60 Fusion Academy campuses across the country with caring individuals dedicated to the betterment of this generation of human beings. Click here to find your campus. We can’t wait to be a part of your connected community.