For High School students, mental health is a perfect image that is impossibly achievable. When introduced to new concepts and peer pressure, ability to heal and better yourself can become misguided. Other factors within a teenagers life can also affect the way they learn and perceive others, such as the loss of a loved one, undiscovered and untreated mental illnesses, and bullying. In teen novel, All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven addresses the multiple challenges faced by teenagers by presenting readers with intriguing characters that have experienced the worst that life has to offer.
Violet Markey; an ambitious young teenager with the world ahead of her and a chip on her shoulder. Although high school can be stressful, most teenagers learn to cope and follow the rules as they go through their school days. For some kids though, life’s obstacles can get in the way. After losing a loved one, people tend to go through five stages of grief. The first stage, denial, reveals the lowest point that some people may reach. Losing someone you care so much for and admire can take a significant toll on your mental health and future outlook. Some may lose the will to proceed through life without this person, and some may conquer the challenges, though extremely difficult to overcome. Violet Markey is a prime example. After losing her older sister, Eleanor, Violet contemplated suicide and searched for her will to survive. Violet felt guilty for living without her sister being by her side. This is a very common trend among teenagers whom have lost a loved one. Guilt and grief go hand and hand. As humans, most of us are inherently overcome with grief with a passing of a friend or family member. Events such as these can be traumatic and cause long term damage to someone’s mental health. By losing her sister, Violet projected her pain inwards onto herself. But believing you are to blame in such instances is not the healthiest way to approach these situations. Bereavement is a vital part of overcoming depression under most circumstances and in proceeding through the stages of grief. Without proper time to pause from your daily activities, your mind can become suffocated underneath the pressure to move on by your peers. Without encountering a similar situation, a lot of people are simply unable to understand what someone may be going through. As Violet says, “The future is uncertain, but that can be a good thing.” (Niven 170). Violet’s uncertainty on her future shows vulnerability. This can go to say that she may not know if she lives or takes her own life, as she shows motive in the first chapter in the book. But we can only trust that by her saying this phrase, she has some optimism and hope for the future.
Although one impairing factor on mental health can be the loss of someone close to the victim, another common factor in harming the mental state of high school students in bullying. Bullying is a problem that has been around from decades. Bullying sometimes can even go above the norms and morph into racism or prejudice. But the reason for bullying has always been the same. The National Survey of School Health researched in 2012 that, “It is characterized by three criteria: intentionality, repeatability and imbalance of power.” (Olweus 751) These factors are prevalent in all bullies as they are with the bullies from All the Bright Places. The bullies from our book, however, have been romanticized. Just like romanticizing suicide and mental illnesses, romanticizing these elements helps the reader feel like they relate to the character, if not piteous of them. But this is not how the real world looks. The real world facts are that, “More than one out of every five (20.8%) students report being bullied.” ((National Center for Educational Statistics 2016) With numbers like these, its evident that there will undoubtedly be more than a few bullies at your childs school. But it can also arise with the problem of parents not realizing that their kids are the bullies, and that they are responsible for the disciplinary actions that they need to take to prevent this type of behavior. But when not prevented, these children can hinder proper education, tarnish a safe learning environment, and affect a victim’s self-esteem and mental health. Theodore Finch, our novel’s main character, is not your average person. A little bit spunky, and weird at times, Theodore can commonly be found in the spotlight for a lot of his crazy tricks and antics. These same tricks are the ones that most likely provoke his bullies. A trend that we see nowadays is that high school bullies came from childhood friends. The same case is true for Theodore. Although he attempts to pay no mind to the foul insults, the words internally damage his self-esteem. Although Violet and Theodore become friends later on in the book, some off the first scenes we see of the two conversing follow Violet being scared to be seen talking to him. Since Violet was a former cheerleader and was in the in crowd, the mixture simply didn’t add up to her former classmates. In the novel, Theodore describes his insecurities and weaknesses that he has been pegged for, but is now comfortable with:
For once, I don’t want to be anyone but Theodore Finch, the boy she sees.
He understands what it is to be elegant and euphoric and a hundred different people, most of them flawed and stupid, part asshole, part screwup, part freak, a boy who wants to be easy for the folks around him so that he doesn’t worry them and, most of all, easy for himself. A boy who belongs—here in the world, here in his own skin. (Niven 128)
The National Voices for Equality, Education, and Enlightenment says “Suicide remains among the leading causes of death of children under 14. In most cases, the young people die from hanging.” Another Suicide Research Facility recently realeased that “Suicide rates among 10 to 14-year-olds have grown more than 50 percent over the last three decades.” (The American Association of Suicidology, AAS) With statistics growing larger and larger every year, and incidents occurring closer to home every day, suicide and bullying should be a major concern within our schools and online. What will it take for the countless victims to finally be heard?
As suicide becomes an everyday topic around us, we must look deeper into some of the problems the victims had. Theodore, our novels main character, commits suicide late in the book. Although bullying may have been a factor, Niven made it evident that Theodore was coping with bi polar disorder. Throughout the novel, Theodore repeatedly contemplates suicide because there’s a being in his mind telling him to do so. Although Theodore may not have understood this, for a long time he didn’t even realize he was living with this illness. When Theodore was diagnosed later on in life, sadly the mental illness had gotten the best of him. Theodore had no desire to seek out help or treatment for his bi polar disorder. Instead, he chose to cope with it by himself, which ended up killing him early in life. His suicide begs the question of ‘What if?’. Although hypothetical’s are not always factually based, multiple readers have made the questions of what if Theodore had have sought out treatment, but since this is not how the story went, we have no real idea of what might have happened. For sufferers of bi polar disorder, every day can be a mental challenge. Getting out of bed in the morning to perform your daily tasks can become a chore, and eventually your mind can trick you into believing you don’t need your daily activities anymore, risking job loss, the loss of a significant other, or getting significantly behind on your health or finances. Victims have to deal with daily mood swings, loss of hopefulness, feelings of depression, fatigue, and other potential health threats that could alter their life expectancy. Without proper treatment, bipolar disorder can drive you to do regretful things, and commonly can cause you to end your own life. When you aren’t medicated or constantly monitored with a mental illness, the effects can be detrimental to one’s health, which is exactly what happed to Theodore Finch. Alhtough our hypothetical questions for the book cant be answered because they aren’t real life, does not mean that these same circumstanves do not apply to real life. No matter the severity of a victims mental illness, health professionals, advocates, and all human beings should be standing side by side to help invent and find cures for these life altering diseases. Not everyone gets a second chance, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve one. Mnetal illnesses have the same negative effects on patients as cancer and other hostile diseases can. So why are they not deservant of the same amount of advocacy?
Throughout our high school careers we have to promote wellness, mentally and physically. Although Theodore and Violet alke had loved ones and people around them who loved them, their minds were still dark, and their hearts were still hurting. Bullying happens every single day, but we never know when it can lead to suicide. As these statistics continue to increase over the years, you must ensure that the students are feeling safe in the environment that you provide for them. Fellow classmates may not know what is going on in the victims life, and being harassed unprovoked can be a trigger. Teens and teachers alike need to come together to find better ways to solve the issues we are faced with today. If we do not, the future will not be able to prosper the way that it was meant to. Most importantly work on you, and work on aiding those around you. Simple words can make some ones day. But as you continue throughout your day, remember the story of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. The story of two teenagers, that although they were not very fitting for each other, they still tried to make their way in a world that did not want them together. Remember that sacrifices must be made in order to aid us daily. Bullying, death, mental illnesses; they are not jokes. Stand up for what is right and make a change.
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