If you saw someone about to jump off a bridge, your first thought would probably be, “That person needs help.”
For me, my first thought is, “That could be me.”
I am Tatum. I’m a singer, a junior lifeguard and a guitar player. I also have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which can sometimes be an overwhelming part of my life.
About six months ago, I was driving home from an event in Bloomington and saw a man about to jump to his death from a bridge (fortunately he was talked out of it). It shocked me to the point of crying uncontrollably the rest of the way home. And it motivated me to quit self-harming and to find some alternate ways of dealing with my mental illness.
A few months later I saw a movie, and in it was a scene where a guy jumped off a bridge and died. It gave me a flashback to the local man I saw on the bridge, which triggered a panic attack. I went to the bathroom to calm myself down and there were women laughing at me in the bathroom.
Taking care of yourself can have a lot of stigma, but it’s an important thing to do.
I go to Lionsgate Academy in Crystal, a school known for amazing special education. I spend a lot of my time with friends who have autism, ADHD, anxiety and depression, and we all struggle with others’ responses to our illnesses. One of my friends has been turned down by school admissions boards, I have lost important resources due to budget cuts, and another peer has even been pinched by a teacher who didn’t know how to handle ADHD.
While we might not always get the support we need from schools and the community, we have found ways to take care of ourselves. I am lucky enough to have several social workers at my school who can meet with me about my issues. I also take some medication and relieve stress by swimming and biking.
Struggling with mental health can cause a person — especially a teenager — to exhibit bad behavior. A school punishing this kind of student only lets the cycle continue. In my opinion, students who are prone to act out — possibly in a violent fashion — are likely struggling with an anger management problem or something worse. A teenager should have the opportunity to get stigma-free help when they feel like they need it. It may not be realistic for a school to provide a therapist for every student, but as I’ve come to learn, the only way a mental health problem can be dealt with is by facing it head on.
I get a lot of support at my school. I’m in special education due to my struggles and I meet with a social worker to talk about issues of concern. In the past, I’ve experienced communication problems with teachers, which has made me question how they could have handled it better. For instance, I would share information about my injury habit with a teacher — and in turn, the teacher would tell a social worker because it made her uncomfortable. I didn’t know this, and as the social worker addressed the issue, I’d be left wondering why the teacher didn’t say anything to me about being uncomfortable. I will listen.
In a perfect world, teachers, principals and other school leaders would be trained to identify signs of greater mental health needs. That may sound unfair because of everything they already have to do inside a school on a given day. But if teachers, in particular, knew how to deal with these “problem kids,” we would not have to look as far for help as we do now.
There have been numerous times when I’ve told a teacher about my anxiety disorder to explain “odd” behavior. Yet I’ve seen many of them shrug it off because they don’t know how to process the information or simply don’t have the time to help me. So, the teacher talks to my parents — again, instead of me — and the whole situation turns into more drama. The information also passes from teacher-to-teacher because they are not sure what to do. That can really hurt a student’s reputation.
I think that getting kids the help they need while their mental health problems are small will prevent them from doing awful things to other people. Any small problem is manageable, as long as you commit to it.
When a teacher sees a kid isolate him/herself, action should be taken. The teacher should give the student a challenge to try to sit with a new group at lunch, or maybe make a new friend this week. It takes work.
The key to preventing big problems is to not put them off — and realizing that some of us can’t do everything ourselves. More available help equals more people thinking about their actions.
Tatum Anderson is a freshman at Lionsgate Academy in Crystal. After submitting a thoughtful essay for a recent YourTurn content, ThreeSixty invited Tatum to write about her experience with mental health at school.
(Illustration by Isaura Lira Greene)