At first he seemed a little shy. Quiet but eager to tell stories, share experiences...but maybe not too much. There is still something opaque about him that signals he's holding back. After a few questions everything begins to fall into place. As a teenager of 17 years, Terrance's life experience has led him through trauma and hardship that most adults haven't had to contend with. He's lost multiple caretakers, and while he's been fortunate to stay out of the foster care system, he grapples with deep depression and post-traumatic stress disorder due to grief and an overwhelming sense of loss. His story so far has been dominated with the need to cope with past and present, though he looks forward to a day when he can comprehend what he wants for his future.
Physical problems in ourselves and in others can be seen, and there's often a doctor who can fix them. Mental and emotional problems are a completely different animal. They can be far more challenging to identify, comprehend, and deal with on your own, let alone ask someone for help. It should come as no surprise that teenagers are a group that is especially unlikely to seek help.
“People ask me why they can’t see my injury when I return from the health center,” Terrance says. He's uncomfortable having to explain it, and fears that other students will perceive him as strange. But it was the individual and group therapies available to him at school that is helping Terrance get his life back on track. The feeling that he is not alone, that is can be normal to feel this way, and especially the fact that there are other people with the same situations and feelings have boosted Terrance’s confidence. The results are impressive: Terrance's attendance and performance at school have both improved drastically, as has his general attitude about his future.
There are of course many more kids and teenagers dealing with similar issues, and all of them deserve adequate support. Early help can make a big difference, not only for the individual but also for the greater society (these kids are our future, after all). With the kind of help offered to kids like Terrance by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), more students are motivated to finish school and lead a productive life. Greater awareness may be called for more now than ever, especially in communities where young males face considerable pressure to join a gang and young females are statistically more likely to confront a teenage pregnancy.
For more context please listen to the interview we did with Courtney Pender who works for the school of mental health for LAUSD: