A teenage girls’ mental health
Posted in Neem Tree Blog on October 10, 2022
Today (October 10th) is World Mental Health Day, a day to raise awareness and open up the conversation about mental health, and to help those who may be struggling.
Our upcoming contemporary fiction novel, Can I Stray, follows 14-year-old Brooke on her journey for independence as she strays away from everything she has ever known to navigate her traumatic past. Although fictional, some of the elements from Can I Stray are drawn from the real-life experiences of the author as she grew up. Jenna Adams has written this guest article to shed light on these experiences and to help readers understand Brooke’s actions in the novel.
Trigger Warnings: Self-Harm, Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health
When I was fourteen, I kind of broke.
I had no idea what was wrong with me. I was doing well at school. I had friends. I came from a very privileged background. Nothing outside of me was struggling, but inside I was falling apart.
Suddenly overwhelmed with hopelessness and stress, I turned to self harm. For me it was a cry for help, a way of externalising my pain. As much as I wanted someone to see the cuts and realise I needed help, I worked hard to keep them hidden. I felt too ashamed to reach out. And this shame was stronger than the pain I was in.
Where did this shame come from? At my school, “attention seeker” was the worst thing you could be called. People derided that mental illnesses were becoming fashionable, and accused each other of “faking it” for sympathy. I was terrified that would happen to me. And so I directed all my pain inwards.
The idea that teenage girl’s problems are trivial is invalidating and harmful. Teenage girls on average have worse mental health than their male peers, and I believe some of that can be accounted for them not being taken seriously. We know that girls and women face medical sexism, where their pain isn’t taken as seriously as men’s pain (a phenomenon exacerbated when combined with medical racism). Perhaps the same thing is happening here; perhaps teenage boys’ issues are taken more seriously than teenage girls’, though boys and men have their own barriers to mental health that we all need to tackle together.
In the midst of my struggle, I somehow did find it in me to tell my mum. With her support I was able to get back to a happier place and stop self harming. But it was short lived: I relapsed again at seventeen, the worst year of my life, a depression triggered by a bunch of bad events piling up on me. I was sad all the time, self harming daily, and feeling the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone.
Around that time, I plucked up a hell of a lot of courage to go and see a doctor. I told her I had been struggling with my mental health, and she printed out a quiz and handed it to me. When she totted up my score, she told me I’d scored low. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ve given my suffering 1s and 2s. Only as I was crying on my way home did I remember the writing that had been above the numbers: they’d referred to the frequency of the symptoms during the past two weeks. 1 had been “not at all” and five had been “every day”. If I’d been honest with myself during that quiz, I’d’ve scored all fours and fives. I had invalidated my own answers, feeling too guilty for taking up space, for asking for help. It wasn’t the doctor’s fault that I scored low; she didn’t know I was downplaying my symptoms. But I’ll never forget the look on her face, as if I’d wasted her time.
Asking for help was hard, especially when I was living with mental health issues. I had to dig way deeper than usual to find the courage I needed, only to be devastated when it was thrown back in my face. Somehow I found it in me to reach out a few more times to a few different places, and I started one-to-one counselling. Here I finally began to understand myself, understand why I was finding things hard. I also joined a psychoeducational self-help group that taught practical strategies for managing stress, anger, anxiety, and low mood. I was there for the low mood part, but I hadn’t expected to relate so strongly to the anxiety section.
This was the first time I’d considered that I might have anxiety. Depression was obvious; it had me sleeping fourteen hours a day and crying all the time. But anxiety? It was shocking to learn that the way I’d felt my whole life – sick with stress, knots in my stomach, scared all the time – was not normal. I learned techniques to manage anxiety which helped me take the leap of talking to new people at school. Making new friends was a massive boost to my recovery.
With therapy and support, I got a lot better and was able to go to university. But I wouldn’t have got better on my own. Asking for help was a crucial step to becoming healthier and happier. And now – compared to the person I was when I was depressed – I’m unrecognisable.
My experience with mental health issues fed into my debut novel Can I Stray. My protagonist Brooke struggles with depression and turns to self-harm as a coping mechanism. As she grows up she makes some destructive decisions, but eventually finds herself ready to ask for help. By working with a therapist, she’s able to understand her thoughts and behaviours better, and ultimately takes steps to recover from her depression.
When writing Can I Stray, I wanted to encourage people – especially teenage girls – to reach out and ask for help, sooner than I did. Ignoring the problem will only make it worse, and the quicker you get help and support, the quicker you can be happier and healthier. With help, my protagonist Brooke is able to get better, make healthier choices, and ultimately pursue a happier life. And that’s something everyone deserves.
If you or your loved one is a young person struggling with your mental health, check out the Young Mind’s website where you can find info and advice.
The unmissable, conversation-starting debut CAN I STRAY will be publishing October 11th 2022!
Click HERE to pre-order a copy now.
About the Author
Jenna Adams lives in London and writes from her third-floor flat which is covered in plants. She is a regular contributor at The Book Network and Can I Stray is her first novel. Jenna is passionate about exploring mental health, consent, and codependency in her writing. You can find out more about her work on Twitter (@JennaAdamsBooks), Instagram (@jennadamsbooks), TikTok (@jennadamsbooks) or her website, www.jennaadamswriter.com.