“Why do you think you have these regular panic attacks?” I held onto her anxiety medication a little tightly before handing them over to her. “I don’t know but I know how I feel…I can’t breath and my stomach is twisting hard.”
My niece pops a small blue pill, sighs and narrows her slight shoulders as she slinks slowly into my couch waiting for her medication to slowly do its ‘magic.” I shutter at the thought of what it must be like to be a teenager today. On a daily basis how do you come of age in a constant state of fear of school mass shootings, terrorism, looming global war, catastrophic natural disasters, recessions where your family can lose everything during a 24-hour news cycle? I was an adult when this cultural shift took place and as unsettling as it was living in an economically wealthy and relatively stable country, this was not our normal, although that quickly changed.
Constantly gripped by anxiety you would think she was born in a war zone. It’s fair to say children born in countries like Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan; suffer the fate of carrying the symptoms of trauma: panic disorders, anxiety, depression and PTSD – well into adulthood.
However how is it that in the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, which has not seen war on its soil since the Civil War, has 6.8 million adults affected by GAD, general anxiety disorder, and more than half of these reported cases are women and 4.5 million are children between the ages of 3-17 years old according to the CDC? While there are a myriad factors that contribute to mental health diagnosis, a perpetual feeling of instability, insecurity and fear of an uncertain future is very much a variable in the equation that we ignore. As a society, while we are not dealing with physical warfare, it seems that the war we are fighting is in our mind, our wrapped imagination that conjures up the worst possible scenarios, creating an altered mental state that becomes our reality. Out of thin air, the images of violence and destruction looping in our minds begin to drive our thoughts and behavioral patterns.
Those factors point to the impact our external environment has on our psyche and sense of security that the the ground we stand on will shake and ultimately draw us all into a void of nothingness. I live in Miami and its low lying typography is ground zero for the impact of climate change as is the island nation that I am from in the Caribbean, which has seen its share of devastation due to deadlier hurricanes and “natural” disasters. Every time a category 3 hurricane is announced, we are all reminded of our mortality and powerlessness against a natural world that we despise because we can not control it.
Yet, the children seem to have a different understanding and the right mind to stand for their future. Just like the movement to end gun violence/school mass shootings, once more, it is the children who are demanding that we do right by them and not continue to rape and plunder the planet for the rapacious appetite of wealthy nations. Perhaps Greta Thunberg will garner sympathy. Given the track record of the boomer generation of wealthy nations, never having to make any sacrifices, it is more likely that they will put their greed first, before that of their children and grandchildren.
It is not surprising that so many young children in the U.S. are suffering with mental health disorders, when they came of age during a time when adults put their self-interest over that of future generations. Yet, they preach the need for resilience as they eat their young to prolong their lives. Well, it least the Germans are talking about this generational divide honestly. Maybe they will come to our rescue with their German engineering when the war in our minds eventually manifest itself and is upon us! Are we equipped with the tools to save ourselves?