By Hannah MacDonald, Global Issues Division Head. Photo found here.
Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?
Even when the dark comes crashing through.
When you need a friend to carry you.
And when you’re broken on the ground.
You will be found.Dear Evan Hansen
This past summer, the six time Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Dear Evan Hansen, ventured to Boston for a brief month showing. Having listened to the sound track only a million times, I convinced my dad to get the two of us tickets. I loved it so much that I then went and bought tickets for my entire family and saw it a second time in that week alone. While I love a good musical, it is the story that I haven’t been able to let go. It’s fairly complicated to explain, but the theme is about a boy, Evan Hansen, who struggles with severe social anxiety paired with depression and is searching for a sense of belonging. It’s a very raw take on the struggles teenagers’ face, with the Boston Globe coining it as “a youth movement that holds a mirror to teen angst.” In light of the show, I want to use this time to address some of the mental health issues that are skyrocketing in our generation and shine a light on the struggles we as an immediate community face, too, and the role our faith can play.
Even before the show began, screens across the stage were filled with active tweets and social media posts, and, as the show progressed, the screens became something that overwhelmed Evan, as he felt like he was “on the outside always looking in.” This tactic attacks the use of social media, as the drastic rise of self-deprecation, depression, and suicide has grown with the recent internet and social media takeover, with evidence of this link mounting over the past years. In multiple studies, “teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66 percent) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time.” Moreover, a 2017 study consisting of over half a million 8-12th graders shows that the number of kids exhibiting high levels of “depressive symptoms increased by 33 percent between 2010 and 2015…and the suicide rate for girls in that age group increased by 65 percent.” We all have a longing to belong, and although social media seems like a way to satisfy that need, it is actually feeding us fake and temporary happiness which will ultimately leave us feeling even less connected with the people around us.
While social media plays a strong role in our society’s recent rise of mental health issues, another major factor is the heightened pressure that comes with school and the emphasis on college. Many high school students are finding themselves struggling with anxiety because there is a false narrative taking over that says who we are is determined by where we will go, however, it is the people who actually do attend those top Universities who struggle with even more severe anxiety…talk about a no win situation! Suicide among students is highest at Ivy League universities, with “MIT having one of the highest rates of suicide among U.S. schools,” according to an analysis by the Boston Globe. The New York Times also describes multiple stories of the perfect students: the ones who were team captains and valedictorians, suddenly ending it, and some even after posting a happy picture flaunting their vacation! But, why? Perhaps, it is because these people spend so much time finding their worth in fleeting and ultimately unfulfilling things, while engaging in a losing battle with the need to please game. These students don’t want to disappoint their families, friends start to become competition, and an unhealthy mindset creeps in as their defining grades are no longer something they want defining them. As it turns out, there’s a cost to “perfection,” and when you fall short, anxiety and depression emerge with a longing to be something—someone—more. From the barrage of social media, to our intrinsic need to belong, to the overwhelming pressure of school and college, it is no surprise that our youth is hurting, giving rise to the central focus in the award winning, hyper popular musical.
The good news is that we don’t have to just accept this. We can make a change, and that change starts right here. For starters, we need to actively love each other. There is no greater way to support your peers than to love without boundaries, to love like Jesus. We need to be a community that understands that every single one of us is fighting a battle in some shape or another, and we must be a people who lift each other up. Social media also doesn’t have to just be something negative, as Evan Hansen, for example, spun it around to create the Connor Project, “a major online presence dedicated to showing that everyone should matter.” In the end, much of this boils down to belonging. We’re all outsiders, all searching for something to connect with and someone who can understand us. We work so effortlessly to be part of something, anything, that will give us purpose. But, we can only truly be fulfilled when we find our identity in Christ and the community that comes with it. The peace we need for our minds is not the absence of difficulties, but the presence of God. It’s contentment in suffering and hardships, as noted by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:12 when he writes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” You will always fall short of fulfillment if you find your worth in worldly things and your present situation, but with Jesus, the narrative can change.
For NON-CLINICAL depression and anxiety, much of it stems from a lack of faith in Jesus. I emphasize non-clinical because I’m well aware, and well acquainted with, people who need physical help such as medicine and differing forms of therapy. However, for those more like myself whom I can speak directly to, much of my emptiness and stress comes when I’ve forgotten what I am truly living for. I get so caught up in materials and trying to look like the world and adjust to its standards, that I forget who’s I am. I am the daughter of a king. I stress most when I pretend like the situation I’m in is actually being dictated by me, and not by my all sovereign Father. How much comfort does it bring to know that the Lord who calms the seas and conquered death, already has your path paved and cares about you! At the end of Dear Evan Hansen, he speaks about climbing a tree, and, instead of letting go, he’s going to keep climbing and climb until he sees the light. As a Christian, I believe that light is Christ, and we are never going to feel fulfilled until we rest in that light. When you feel sad or alone, Evan Hansen reminds us that “you will be found,” but here’s the twist: you’ve already been found, and He’s waiting for you to run home.
2 Corinthians 6:18 “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.”
** If you have any ideas for combating mental health issues in our community, or if you want to send in any pieces regarding this topic, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s start a conversation! The newspaper wants your voice to be heard, so use it.**
- A trusted faculty member (all are willing and want to listen!)
- Ms. Kiers (Mr. Lane’s old office)
- Peer Issues Group (Names and emails can be found on the PIG board by the dining hall)
We are here to help!