At least once a year, I make a phone call with trembling lips and rocky fingers. At least once a year, I choke on words that aren’t there. At least once a year, I see “It’s OK not to be OK,” scribbled all over Instagram stories and Facebook walls.
And at least once a year, I hear the words that my friend or someone’s brother, daughter, father, cousin, committed suicide.
I grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, the place where some drive a Mercedes at 17, some know where they are going to college their freshman year of high school and others describe as “the Beverley Hills of New York.”
But I also grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, the place with one of the highest — if not the highest — opioid death rate in the country. At 21 years old, I have had six individuals in my life attempt or commit suicide.
So, is there something wrong?
Most people would answer: nothing. Because we have everything we could ever want. They label us as “spoiled,” say we “live in a bubble,” so therefore, we do not understand what it means to “really struggle.”
On the surface, they may be right.
But underneath that layer of Instagram posts, Snapchat stories and Facebook albums, a facade filled with group chats and FaceTimes and a fake front of “fun” lies a reality.
A reality of expectations. Our “great” expectations. And trust me, there are a lot of “Bergen Counties” in this country.
Whenever a suicide occurs, teachers, parents and the whole town will get together and hold discussions with high school students and tell them, “We are here for you,” and that “It’s OK not to be OK.” They try to make sense of something that will never make sense to kids who continue to lose their friends.
But after two weeks, those same people will fuel the environment that ultimately caused the tragedy. Until the cycle eventually happens all over again.
I’m not saying that this environment occurs just in classrooms.
It is everywhere.
It is our culture.
Whether it’s on the soccer field, at dinner with family or a party with friends, we are expected to be perfect in every single aspect of our lives. The people we rely on the most, the people who teach us life lessons, love us and put their lives aside for us, also do us the biggest disfavor. And it is not even their faults.
We do not know how to handle failure because it is not an option. We are taught that failure is not just unacceptable, it simply does not exist.
In some cases, a delusion of self-hate forms within teens. It is truly a sickness, a sickness that in today’s society, becomes horrifyingly glorified.
Suicide has become so normalized, it is disgusting. TV shows like, “13 Reasons Why” and “A Million Little Things,” teach kids that suicide, depression and the illusion of loneliness is how you should feel. They teach kids that suicide is the answer.
Some feel trapped in their own heads, unsure of how to cope with daily tasks. They think they are a disgrace to themselves, their family and the world. They create an illusion of themselves all because they have this pressure to succeed. It is intrinsic just as it is extrinsic.
Teachers are supposed to teach, not punish.
Coaches are supposed to motivate, not penalize.
And families and friends are supposed to understand, not dismiss.
This isn’t just about raising suicide or mental health awareness. And I am not preaching “bubble kids” have it harder than anybody else. I am saying this is a horrible culture, and we continue to breed it every day. And the scariest part is, we aren’t even aware of it.
We don’t need to fix our kids, we need to fix the world we created. And you are a part of it just as much as I am.
Madison Hite, ’20, is the sports editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]