BY: SAREEMA HUSAIN
It’s a Wednesday and I find myself sinking into my living room couch. If I stare at my ceiling long enough without blinking, it’ll start to move. An unexpected giggle lurches out of my throat and my friend and I divulge into another laughing fit.
Two hours later, the high dwindles and a melancholy sets in my bones. What was the point of that? Substances that were once well-deserved breaks in our lives have evolved into ways to simply kill time.
I used to think that each of my friends came with their hefty baggage because I willingly surrounded myself with eccentrics. ADHD, OCD, struggles with self-harm, anxiety and depression—their identities often felt like a buffet of mental disorders to choose from. But at the time, they were viewed as quirks rather than crippling disorders.
Did our drugs of choice numb the reality of our depleting mental health? Or did the drugs awaken the disorders from their hibernation? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how the vicious cycle began, but we were never really bothered by that: when you’re dragging out your days surrounded by nice houses with nicer cars out front, you hop into those cars and talk melodrama while driving to your dealer’s house.
According to A Study of Suburban and Inner-city Adolescents: Contextual Factors in Substance Abuse, it was reported that suburban youth report higher levels of substance abuse than their inner-city counterparts: 46% of females living in a suburban area used an illicit drug at least once in the past year, while only 26% of females who live in an inner-city did. This parallels the study’s mental health statistics, which stated that suburban teenage girls are three times as likely to report clinically significant levels of depression.
The most common mental health problems affecting suburban youth revolve around isolation and withdrawal. Each of us made plentiful social media posts, expressing how keen we were to move away, to escape from our monotonous routines and the hometown that we’d already exploited for all its worth.
Our upbringing in a culture of affluence and our ability to purchase our identities on store shelves made us feel numb. We’d drink more, smoke more, use harder drugs, and let suburbia drag us down as our rates of anxiety and depression heightened. Our sheltered lifestyles made it easy for us to experiment: we were never surrounded by people who had fallen to their demise because of addiction, so we were blind to any long-term consequences.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 70% of mental health problems have their onset during adolescence. The correlation with substance abuse and mental illness is too strong to be overlooked: people with substance abuse problems are up to three times as likely to have a mental illness.
If we didn’t have so much time on our hands, would our inner demons have subsided? Would joining a leadership program or a brother-sister club have helped to end our destructive habits? As a kid, I’d recoil every time an adult would suggest a solution—it simply seemed too good to be true.
But as the sun dawns and I sit on my longboard, overlooking my neighborhood park, I realize that this will probably be the last summer I’ll be experiencing this trapped feeling. Stagnant environments bore me, and I’ve concluded that Gore Vidal’s claim that “the unfed mind devours itself” holds true to my character. It’s time to start spending my pocket money on something else.