Anxiety and Depression: the hidden struggles of a Patriot

Christina Tuttle and Katrina Filer

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 8 percent of US teens suffer from some type of diagnosed anxiety disorder, and 12.5 percent have experienced at least one depressive episode in the last year. Comparatively, a survey of 237 Liberty students found that anxiety affects roughly 13 percent of Patriots, and depression affects 7 percent. Join the Patriot Press as we discuss the importance of mental health in the hectic life of a Liberty student.

What is anxiety?
Imagine feeling scared to come to school. You dread the alarm clock in the morning, not because it deprives you of sleep, but because it deprives you of security. Imagine for a moment that for you, school as a place of panic-inducing tests, and teachers like tall, unapproachable mountains. Imagine the stares of peers that seem to suck the air out of the room with their unrelenting judgment. Why would anyone choose to come to school?
For many Liberty students, however, this situation is their reality. Diagnosed or undiagnosed, anxiety is a common ailment of many adolescents. The feeling of panic is the most prevalent symptom.
“When I have a panic attack it feels like the whole entire world is closing in on me,” senior Deborah Daniel said. “I can’t breathe, and I start shaking.”
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines anxiety as a “persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things”. These “everyday things” can include anything from work to relationships. One of the most relevant causes for students, as mental health counselor Cecilia Oxford explained, is school.
“I think the high expectations and demands of school for students is pretty incredible and definitely ups that anxiety element for sure,” Oxford said.
In order to avoid these symptoms of anxiety, many students have been led to miss school altogether, such as sophomore Megan Carney, who has experienced both anxiety and depression.
“Last year, I only got 2.5 credits because I couldn’t come to school,” Carney said. “I was just so anxious and sad that I didn’t want to leave my house, and I wouldn’t leave my room.
What is depression?
Depression also interferes in the lives of many Liberty students. Though anxiety does not directly cause depression, both are heavily influenced by stress from the pressures of everyday life. The Center for Disease Control characterizes depression as “persistent sadness or irritability”. Similar to anxiety, it can cause a lack of motivation to interact with people and get out of the house.
“With depression, it can look like you don’t care about anything, which can come across negatively to a person who is observing that.  Especially in the adolescent years, people can come across as really angry, so that can mask the depression piece of it,” Oxford said.
Symptoms of depression can include thoughts about suicide or running away, expecting the worst-case scenario, or a persistent feeling of hopelessness, as freshman Jennifer Allen* describes.
“During the worst part of my depression I could not feel anything,” Allen said. “The only things I would feel were sadness or anger. I wouldn’t feel happy or excited. I would just feel neutral most of the time.”
How do students deal with anxiety and depression?
Anxiety and depression alike have harmed and hindered the lives of many Liberty students. Despite the persistent nature of their symptoms, some of these students have been able to conquer mental health disorders by developing ways to cope and eventually ways to heal.
“I think that it’s very easy for any of us to just focus on getting that next grade, or getting that next assignment done, or planning for the future, and so we never step back and take care of ourselves,” Oxford said.
To help students reduce stress, Oxford recommends participating in activities that are personally relaxing, such as taking walks or exercising.
“You should do things simply for the enjoyment of doing them, not to produce anything, not to bolster your resume, but because you enjoy it. Whatever it is, whether anyone sees it or not, you should do something that is simply for you,” Oxford said.
Oxford also encourages participation in therapy, a common solution to mental health disorders. Carney found it essential in overcoming her depression.
“I think therapy is a really good option. It’s saying, ‘Hey, I need help, and I’m willing to get it’,” Carney said. “Even though you’re so used to the way you’ve been feeling, you have to keep going to therapy even when it gets really hard. That’s how you get over anxiety and depression.”
Another strategy for fighting anxiety and depression is to discuss it honestly with someone you trust. This was Allen’s first step in her healing process.
“I reached out to my mother who was completely clueless about it. I told her what was going on and she took me to a doctor and a therapist. Then I started taking medication and talking regularly,” Allen said. “Don’t wait until the very last moment to tell someone.”
Senior John Conley* suffered depression after a close friend of his committed suicide. Opening up to his cousin during a family reunion provided him with some key advice to his recovery.
“She told me to find the positives. People care about you. Even though it may seem that your parents don’t care about you, they do, and you have friends, so just try to find the positives. That’s what she told me and now I’m depression-free,” Conley said.
Conley recommends to those dealing with depression to remember that people care about them.
“You’re never alone. I’ve dealt with depression, but I’m still here, and I love life. I know there’s a lot of negatives going on, but the positives are always there. You just have to search a little harder to find them,” Conley said.
How can Liberty confront mental health disorders?
Anxiety and depresson directly affect the lives of Liberty students in inumerable ways. Though not everyone may be struggling with anxiety or depression, almost everyone has a friend or family member who is. In fact, according to our survey, 67 percent of Liberty students know someone who is affected by a mental health disorder. But most importantly, all students struggle with different things, like the feeling of panic before a test or the lack of motivation after a month at school.
Oxford emphasizes the importance of creating a supportive community for everyone who deals with stress and difficult emotions, regardless of whether they are diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
“We all struggle. We all have different things going on. Whether we put that label of anxiety or depression on it or not is less of an issue than recognizing that stress is real. We need to learn how to manage it, how to support each other, how to bring more awareness, and what to do about it,” Oxford said.
Oxford believes that compassion is the key to creating a supportive environment where students can openly discuss their problems.
“Whether people have been struggling with depression or anxiety or not, you should know that everybody has a story, and you don’t necessarily know it. Everybody’s struggling; everybody has their own thing. We should try to interact with kindness,” Oxford said.
The more Liberty students understand and discuss feelings of anxiety and depression, the more students will be able to open up to a positive community that can recognize everyone’s struggles.
“I think the more education, the more awareness, the more conversations that we can be having, the more opportunities for growth we’re going to be able to find,” Oxford said.
Oxford also recommends some steps to begin this growth in the Liberty community.
“We can talk to the entire school and bring about a little more awareness and understanding, maybe even helping people understand themselves a little better,” Oxford said.
Overall, Oxford explains that everyone plays a role in creating a healthy environment at school, and Liberty needs to fight against misconceptions students have about mental health.
“I think it’s so hard not to label things, but I think those labels are what perpetuate the mental health stigma,” Oxford said. “Instead of “Can I label myself with this now?” people should think, “Okay, I’m struggling. Who cares what the label is, what do I do about it?’”