THREE THINGS THIS WEEK
1. Sate of Emergency
What it is: The US surgeon general issued an advisory this week, warning of a massive mental health crisis amongst young people, including an increase in suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety.
Why it’s been a long time coming: The advisory cites several data sources that show an uptick in youth emergency room visits related to mental health. This advisory comes after the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association jointly declared a “national emergency” in youth mental health earlier this year. As the New York Times notes, the reasons for this emergency are complicated, but the underlying causes are likely related to last year’s massive increase in screen time and social media use, combined with pandemic restrictions and youth anxiety and depression that were already rising rapidly. Mental health should always be evaluated on an individual level, but it’s essential that people who care about teens be aware that Gen Z’s risk factors for developing serious mental health conditions are at an all-time high.
2. High School Hero
What it is: Tate Myre was a high school football player who reportedly died protecting others in the school shooting at Oxford High last week. Now, his fellow students have started a petition to rename their football field in his honor, and they have nearly 300,000 signatures.
Why it’s Gen Z’s everyday reality: Myre’s reported actions and subsequent death, in which he attempted to disarm the shooter and save his peers, truly should vaunt him to hero status. Myre was prepared to sacrifice his life for his friends and classmates. It’s a beautiful thing, but also a choice that absolutely no teen should ever have to make, and Gen Z knows it. They see the fact that no policy has been put in place to effectively curb this type of violence as a massive failure on the part of the adults and institutions in their lives. While the grown-ups talk in circles about what can be done about theoretical on-campus violence and devise lockdown drills, it’s teens who suffer from the reality that these shootings have become commonplace. Myre’s friend’s effort to rename a stadium is poignant in its intention, but also as a reminder that impacted teens can only live with the aftermath of grief, trauma, and loss from these events. They need involved, caring adults to stop them from happening.
3.Purity Culture, The Sequel
What it is: A microwaved version of so-called “purity culture” lives on in the form of TikTok influencers who dish on courtship, marriage, and virginity in popular posts, as noted in a highly critical article published by Religion News Service.
Why it’s worth knowing about: As Christians, we are called to a biblical understanding of the depth and seriousness of spiritual partnerships, as well as the sanctity of marriage. “Purity culture,” on the other hand, is used to refer specifically to a set of beliefs that place the highest of stakes on adolescent choices and which offers confusing, often contradictory ways of thinking about sex and virginity. If your teen has spent any time looking at Christian content on TikTok, chances are that these influencers will come up as recommended in their feed. Advocating for abstinence and a disciplined, pure-minded view of premarital relationships is one thing that isn’t (and shouldn’t be) going away, and seeing a couple of posts that show a happy Christian marriage won’t necessarily be harmful for a teen’s worldview. But the real key to a teen with a healthy understanding of marriage is a home where attraction, affection, desire, and emotions are freely discussed without being silenced or shamed. (See our Parent’s Guide to Purity for more on this.)
Slang of the Week:
“This would have been my thirteenth reason.”: A phrase used mostly on social media as an irreverent nod to the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why; indicates that something is so dumb or offensive that it’s enough to push someone into a mental health abyss.
Translation: State of Emergency
The phrase “suicide contagion” refers to the idea that one person’s suicide will lead to more suicides in people around them. Researchers believe that suicide contagion becomes more likely given three kinds of proximity: geographical, psychological, and social. Basically, the ones at greatest risk are those who live close to where a suicide happened, those who identify with some aspect of the person who committed suicide, and/or those who have some sort of relationship with that person.
But if suicide contagion is real, so too is anti-suicide contagion. When we choose to endure, we inspire others around us to also choose to endure. As Jennifer Hecht puts it in her book Stay, “If suicide has a pernicious influence on others, then staying alive has the opposite influence: it helps keep people alive. By staying alive, we are contributing something precious to the world.”
So what makes life worth living, even in the darkest of times? For holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, it was a sense of meaning. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” An understanding that our suffering is not for no reason—but is rather part of constructing something positive and significant—was essential for giving Frankl strength to endure the darkest days of his life.
But our culture has placed the pursuit of pleasure above the pursuit of meaning. What we think makes life worth living is the chance to feel really good. But feelings of pleasure and happiness are fleeting; thankfully, as Christians, we have an incredible source of meaning to draw sustenance from.
We are part of a grand metanarrative—the story of an incredible God creating an amazing and complex world that went so wrong—but that He’s working tirelessly to put back together. We are partners with God in this global restoration project, empowered by eternity—working alongside the one who knows at the deepest level what it means to weep, and suffer, and be sorrowful. The God of Christianity is the God who enters into our pain—and from the inside, transforms it.
Of course, mental health can also be improved by more mundane-sounding things like eating healthy food, exercising, getting good sleep, being exposed to sunlight, and having positive in-person social interactions—as well as things like failing and cultivating resilience. But again, without that deeper sense of purpose and meaning, we will still be much more vulnerable to mental health crises. Here are some questions to hopefully help carry that conversation forward with your teen:
- What do you believe a meaningful life looks like?
- Do you believe your life is meaningful?
- What does it mean to you that Jesus suffered and experienced depression and anxiety?
Keep the Faith!
- The Axis Team
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