Adolescent Depression and the One-Inch Picture Frame

Like adults, sometimes tweens and teens need to reframe their perceptions..

            *Kira is a twelve-year-old with a penchant for animae and Greek mythology. She is articulate and kind, responsible and perceptive. Unfortunately, she also considers herself a disappointment to her parents and feels like she is failing her friends and family.

            *Mandy is just shy of thirteen. He attends school virtually, participating in class daily, turning in assignments on time, and deftly plays chess. Yet he has attempted suicide twice this past year. “My parents were pretty angry when they found out—my Dad especially. I think he’s upset that he didn’t know how bad it was.”

            As a middle school English teacher, I have the pleasure and responsibility of working with Kira and Mandy. After over a decade in the classroom, I’ve witnessed an unprecedented and palpable uptick in depression in tweens and teens this past academic year. No doubt, the psychological toll of pandemic life has left its mark on humankind’s psyche. The economic duress alone created waves of stress in families. Regardless of the reasons for the increased depression, unlike adults, our adolescent population may not have the tools to seek or get the help needed. 

            I teach six separate classes, and there are 1-2 students in each class struggling with depression or anxiety tainted with thoughts of hopelessness. A numbness will often emanate from them as well. As one student recently shared with me, “Nothing matters anymore. I just stopped feeling.”

            There’s a writing exercise the talented Anne Lamott shared in her famous book, Bird by Bird that I share with my students who honor me with their honesty, with the raw, underbelly of their emotions:

            “All I have to do is write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”

            Now, I am not asking my students to start writing their feelings or anything at all for that matter. I am asking them to consider the idea that they are in one picture frame of their life right now—that’s just it, one frame. And while that frame might look overwhelming or render them numb or any other negative emotion for that matter, it is simply one frame. The frame, however unbearable to them, WILL pass.

            Besides, I remind them, there must be other frames that they like in their present life. Here are some recent ones they shared:

            “When my dog licks my face.”

            “Drawing—I’m working on a book!”

            “Soccer—kicking the ball.”

            “The smell of my dad’s pancakes.”

            It need be noted that the above frames were spoken with smiles that could light up a room.

            Whatever we focus on we get more of. We always have the choice to focus on a frame that makes us feel worse or better.

            I am not a doctor or therapist, nor do I play one on TV.  I am a teacher and mother who lost someone dear to suicide when I wasn’t much older than the students who are courageous enough to share their often-concealed pain with me. Perhaps they can sense the experience in me; the unspoken guidance I’m able to give that will nurture us both.

            Regardless, these students’ parents were informed; help is on the way. Help is always on the way. 

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

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