Mental health focus for middle schoolers

“Validate a child's feelings"
Posted at 7:13 PM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 16:19:10-04

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — There are troubling statistics when it comes to the mental health of children.

One in five, ages 13 to 18, have or will experience a serious mental illness. But pre-teens are also battling mental illness. The pandemic has pushed many students over the edge with remote learning and isolation.

So why are youth are experiencing high rates of depression and anxiety, and where you can turn for help?

Sonobia James shared her story of mental health.

“Then the thoughts progressed and they got really dark and heavy and they were more like — I don't want to be here anymore — I just don't want to be in like the world anymore,” Sonobia James remarked. Heartbreaking emotions described by the 18-year-old from New York City.

When she was 12 years old, and in 7th grade at a charter school, James says she was just one of only three Black students at the school and was bullied.

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Sonobia James photo.

“And I felt like I really didn't have anyone to talk to, so then I started self-harming by cutting myself,” James explained.

Now a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College, James wrote a story about her experience of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. She wrote it through an organization called Youth Voices. The story is titled How I Finally Got Mental Health Help.

James says she didn't feel comfortable telling her mother how she was feeling, instead she says she first reached out to a school counselor and then her doctor, but both dismissed her feelings.

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Sonobia James shared her story of mental health in a Zoom interview.

“You said it was unbearable — like you were practically begging?” asked Buckley.

“I told him I felt like anxious at the time I didn't know that I had anxiety. I was just kind of telling him the symptoms I was feeling and he was telling me — oh that's just completely normal — it's a growing pains as a teenager and at first I thought maybe he was right — maybe I’m overreacting and so i really didn't think anything of it,” James recalled.

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National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10 to 24.

“When it comes to mental health and mental illness — it’s a journey and it's a journey for young folks,” declared Alyssa Mary Erazo, youth peer advocate, Mental Health Advocates of WNY.

Erazo is studying school psychology in graduate school. Erazo and youth peer advocate Katie Bernard are both working with middle schools ages 11 to 14 right now in a virtual workshop program called “Stuck in the Middle".

Alyssa Mary Erazo, youth peer advocate, Mental Health Advocates of WNY.

It’s a support group for the pre-teens to promote good mental health and help students deal with bullying, anger management, coping and social skills.

“That age — that's likes a fragile state in your life. You're growing, you’re making friends, you’re finding out who you are and for them, to be stuck at home for a year in isolation, not going to school — not being with their friends — it's been awful for them,” Bernard explained.

The youth advocates say they're finding a lot of anger and anxiety among the middle schools and the pandemic has made it worse.

Youth Peer Advocate Katie Bernard.

“Are they candid about what is causing that anxiety in them?” Buckley questioned.

“They're anxious to get back to school — they're anxious to grow,” Bernard remarked. “

That could be anything from having really difficult home lives to kind of just struggling in school or trying to live up to a specific expectation,” Erazo.

“What can parents and caregivers of children do better?" Buckley asked.

“Validate a child's feelings,” responded Erazo.

Mental Health Advocates of WNY.

Validation of feelings is exactly what Sonobia James searched for during her first mental health episode before she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

“I got the help I needed but it wasn't until — people noticed that i was suffering,” James reflected.

“What would you tell someone in middle school or in high school that's having unfortunately some suicidal thoughts?" Buckley questioned.

“Don't let people invalidate your feelings and even if they are adults because adults aren't always right,” James replied.