Op-Ed

‘My generation is too isolated from one another. I hope to change that.’

People gather for a candlelight vigil in honor of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018.
People gather for a candlelight vigil in honor of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018. Getty Images

During this past year, I have tried to understand why mental health is not taken as seriously as other issues. It has been deemed a personal issue, not suitable for being addressed on a broader scale.

Even after the mass shooting that occurred at my school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the administration has convinced itself that the school’s current wellness center — which no one wants to go to — is enough mental-health support.

While this delusion persists, my peers suffer in silence and take antidepressant medications instead of dealing with the social embarrassment of having their teacher announce that they are being summoned by the school’s “wellness” center.

The statistics reveal what should be a wake-up call: Suicide is among the top 10 causes of death in the United States. Each year, more than 1.3 million people try to kill themselves. Many children are living with a form of mental illness, and teenage girls are twice as likely as boys to commit suicide.

Studies also say that my generation, Gen Z, is not as adept at dealing with adversity and mental illness as were previous generations. I guess we could blame it on the internet. We are given so much information, so relentlessly, that we invest no time into learning about ourselves.

The internet has made us impatient, we expect more with less effort. As a result, some employers are establishing mindfulness programs in the workplace to ease with stress and increase productivity.

Gen Z’s social and emotional experiences are based largely on virtual experiences. From texting instead of calling, to living our lives through social media feeds, we are constantly skipping out on organic experiences like actual in-person contact.

Human-to-human interaction has become taboo for my generation. If you call someone, they think it must be an emergency or that you’re weird. We have abandoned the standard of organic communication. For many of us, jobs in sales, medicine and other fields that require social skills may be difficult;. After all, we did not spend our high school years talking to each other as much as we spent time on our phones or posing for selfies.

My generation is too comfortable with artificial interaction, and that is a problem for the future of community engagement. For many young people, the impressions of beauty, lifestyle and wealth filtered through social media has sparked inferiority complexes and depression in many of my peers.

In the wake of the mass shooting a year ago, friends have struggled with various mental-health issues and even attempted suicide. These problems are social and emotional: we are not being taught to be introspective, and that endangers the prospect of human development. And in meeting this challenge, this is where I hope to be of service.

After the massacre, I was able to make the Calm app, the best-seller in the App Store in 2017 available to traumatized MSD students. This allows them to practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere. The regular subscription rate is $59 a year per student. However, Calm offered 3,300 subscriptions for free. That’s a $200,000 value.

Still, we must take matters into our own hands. Mental health problems are concentrated in high-stress environments, including colleges. Many elite schools pressure-cook their students, which has caused too many to take their lives.

I am tired of mental health being shamed, stigmatized, and boxed into “the personal problem” category. I am working to address this through the Societal Reform Club — S.R. Club, an after-school program that I founded to allow students to engage in collaborative mindfulness activities and mental health training with a focus on women’s empowerment and workshops that will encourage goal setting and life visioning.

The program is under consideration by the Broward County School Board.

If we are to evolve as a nation, we have to train our citizens to be empowered, emotionally intelligent human beings. I launched a mental health charity, the Societal Reform Corporation to change this world. My goal is to put mental health/mindfulness clubs in schools and to build our country’s first high tech mindfulness facility. Let’s put an end to the mental health crisis in America.

Kai Koerber is a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

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