By Lizbeth Guerra
Jessica, a 15-year-old sophomore at Alisal High School in Salinas, knows how hard it is to live with anxiety. She walks around campus with her head down and she talks very quietly when she talks at all.
“My anxiety began when I was a victim of bullying in sixth grade,” she said. “I began to feel insecure about myself and I felt weak.” She said she is fearful on campus even when the bullies aren’t around.
Anxiety among teenagers is common around the world, and the Monterey Bay Area is no exception. According to the Monterey County Behavioral Health 2013 Satisfaction Survey, 61 percent of people in Monterey County are on medication for emotional or behavioral problems. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 25.1 percent of 13 to 18 year olds in the United States experience anxiety.
Jessica, who asked that her surname not be used, said she tried to confront her anxiety by talking about it with her mother and the principal. The bullying decreased, but her anxiety increased because she was terrified that the bullies would find out she told on them.
“Four years later I am still affected by the way school was in sixth grade,” she said.
Chloe Oros, who is also 15 and a sophomore, is open about her anxiety with friends. On snapchat she posts photos of her medication and she comments about how she does not like her illness.
“It’s very annoying because you never know when you’re going to get an anxiety attack,” she said. “Sometimes I couldn’t do things I wanted to because of my anxiety.” She describes her anxiety as scary and unpredictable.
Anxiety develops in many ways: by bullying, by trauma, or by being genetically inherited. Adolescence is a specially vulnerable age because teens feel the pressure to fit in. In many cases, fitting in means keeping up with the latest trends, something that not many low-income families in Salinas can do.
Teenagers who identify as LGBTQ get bullied more often than those who are straight. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, LGBTQ individuals are 3 times more likely to experience a mental health condition such as generalized anxiety disorder. There is fear of coming out and being discriminated against for sexual orientation and gender identities.
NAMI teaches people how to navigate mental illness. “You can’t know what you weren’t told,” said Anna Lowery, an outreach coordinator at NAMI Monterey County, which is focused on education and advocacy on behalf of those dealing with mental illness.
The Epicenter in Salinas also provides a safe space for youth dealing with issues, including anxiety. Angelica Gonzalez, a youth advocate at The Epicenter, said the site provides a safe space for free expression for young adults, especially foster children and LGBTQ youth, aged 16 to 24.
Gonzales said its mission is to guide teenagers through life and teach them about the world, society and themselves. The center site has the trappings of home, including a kitchen, clothes and supplies for youth, a room to hangout and even a couch.
According to Psych Central, there are many ways to calm anxiety. There are breathing exercises, positive self-talk, and meditation. Many teenagers use medication when anxiety attacks are strong. Medication is usually the last recommendation since it can be too strong for some people. Many therapists recommend counseling when anxiety is first developed. Support groups with other peers can also help.
“Knowing that I’m not alone makes me feel stronger,” Jessica said. “I will have anxiety for the rest of my life. But, I am okay with that because I have accepted it and I am learning how to control it. I will not give up, ever.”
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY | Lizbeth Guerra talks about her story
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Epicenter 831 998-7291
NAMI Monterey County 831 422-6264
This story was written for the 2017 Monterey County Youth Media Project.