Week 46 — How a 16 Year Old Kid Deals with Suicide, a Panicdemic and a National Exam

Photo by Himesh Kumar Behera on Unsplash

Things have changed. The world has changed since I was a 16 year old kid. The only thing that freaked me out was taking my ‘o’ level examinations and all I had to do was wake up, go to school, do my homework, go back home, study and sleep.

If I had to pinpoint the main difference between 10 years ago and today, it would be that things felt like it was shifting in a big way soon. Social media was becoming more and more a part of our daily lives and phones were on this tipping point where it was getting smarter.

Things were different.

No one ever really talked about how they felt about what was happening in their lives and frankly the teachers were way too busy trying to keep our heads from getting chopped off to even have the mental bandwidth to keep a lookout for what was happening.

So when I spoke to my student just a couple of days back, I was shocked to hear what kind of “new normal” she’s going through.

Ear On The Ground: The Situation Right Now

School in Taiwan getting disinfected

With the recent restrictions placed on all Singaporeans, Covid-19 has placed students in a high state of anxiety, many of which are uncertain whether they would wake up and suddenly not be allowed to attend school.

On the surface, it seems like a joyous thing to experience. Who wouldn’t want to stay at home and not go to school?

Well, not many of them, or at least those who actually care about their national exams.

Just like adults and old people, children are creatures of habit too. So when normal has been thrown out onto the street and rammed down by a cement mixer repeatedly while being set on fire, children suffer. Especially those who are old enough to understand what’s going on around them but unable to cope with it all.

If the uncertainty is not enough, try dealing with the fact that people in your school start to fall ill with Covid-19. This is enough to put everyone on edge.

So when the government says, this is the new normal, what they’re actually saying is: “just suck it up”.

Kids and suicide

It almost sounds like a myth, I wish it was, but kids committing suicide is real. It is one of the most tragic things to deal with as a parent, an educator and a friend.

To see an empty desk where a student full of potential was once sitting is both sobering and outrageous.

So when my student told me that a couple of months back, a friend from school jumped to her death, I was shocked. I literally had no words but felt all of these weird emotions. Here I was in my comfortable home, doing the things I love doing, and my student was forced to confront a situation like that.

Imagine 16 year old you getting a goodbye text from a friend moments before she decides to end her life. I do not claim to empathise with that feeling, because I can’t, but I know for a fact that this is not something you would want to wish on your worst enemy.

Looking back, what struck me the most was how calm my student was when she told me about her deceased friend and what happened to her. Talking about it made her sad, but the source of the calmness was not because she had come to terms with it, but because things like that have unfortunately become … “the new norm”.

The Biggest Burden Gen Zs Face

You might already know that we live in a world filled with so much noise. Hours and hours of YouTube and Tik Tok rule the internet, insistently tapping on our shoulders to grant someone else attention.

As Herbert A. Simon has put it beautifully, a wealth of information results in a poverty of attention. I believe this is the biggest problem that Gen Zs are dealing with. There’s just so much out there vying for attention that young minds simply cannot process everything. Even at my age where my cognitive functions have been fully developed, I have to deliberately cut myself from certain information sources just because it consumes too much of me.

And so this wealth of information results in a couple of issues:

  1. Over-consumption of negative information (the news or mean comments) affecting their overall emotive states.
  2. Escapism: Choosing to distract themselves from information sources that pull them away from the problem instead of tackling them head on.
  3. Taking time away from looking inward and reconciling with the emotions that they are facing.

Everything in the right dosage is a poison. The same can be said with information and large dosages of it are being administered to our youth.

It’s exactly the reason why the youths (in Singapore at least) have everything they could ever ask for, but yet are extremely unhappy with their lives. Try giving your spouse a string of pearls made of luscious plastic. Material possessions clearly aren’t the silver bullet to making them truly happy and satisfied.

It is exactly this poor understanding of them that leads me to my next point.

Being Dismissed By Loved Ones and Not Being Well Represented

The best part about being 16 year old in 2021 is when you muster up the courage to talk to your parents about how you’re feeling, the instant response is “You can’t compare with working adults, it’s way worse in the working world.”

How does this even matter? Are we playing who has a bigger stick game?

How would you feel if your emotions were dismissed?

So, don’t do it to young people. Don’t put people down like that, it’s unpleasant and it doesn’t help solve any problems, it merely exacerbates the issue.

My student’s deceased friend suffered greatly from this, from parents who dismissed her mental health issues and failed to acknowledge it, and from teachers who could have treated her better.

Some mistakes you make, you can’t unmake.

On top of that, many young people feel like they aren’t represented well in their local communities. No one bothers to actually listen to them and understand them. No matter how much they shout at the government or scream about these issues on social media, nothing gets done.

People just like their posts, leave a thoughts and prayers kind of comment and just go, job’s done!

But, the problem doesn’t go away. It’s there and it’s plaguing our young. Some of them even think it’s cool to suffer from depression and they don’t even realise it’s killing potential.

Don’t be dismissive of people, just like how you don’t like to be dismissed.

Why I’m Even Writing About This

I hate talking about stuff like this, it’s unpleasant and it bothers me. But, I’m doing it anyway, because a day of reckoning will come when the young become old enough to look at the generations above and judge us for what we did and did not do.

It’s a cry for help from the young, that they are simply too burdened by everything that is happening in the world.

Help them if you can, counsel them or simply just ask them how they are doing, it goes a long way. Treat them like living, breathing human beings, not as robots programmed to study for an exam.

Above all, listen to them. Sometimes we all just need someone to talk to, someone who will not judge us for our mistakes that we have already chastised ourselves repeatedly.

To all the students out there dealing with the panicdemic and whatever stressors that you may be going through, you’re not alone. Reach out to someone, to a friend, to a teacher or to a professional.

Shut off your phone for a bit, do something that excites you, go out get some fresh air and learn to breathe deeply. There is so much good out in the world to celebrate, it would be a shame if the only picture you’re taking are grey ones.

If you have anything you’d like to talk about, reach out to me here or adrielfonggl94@gmail.com.