On January 29th, former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst wrote on her Instagram page, “May this day bring you rest and peace.” A few hours later, she jumped 60 stories from her apartment window to her death. While the circumstances surrounding her suicide may never be known, in several interviews prior, she alluded to her struggles with mental health. Online, friends and fans alike were stunned. The sentiment was, “Why would someone so successful take their own life?”
On February 16th, 15-year-old Akiriyiah McClellan ran out of the front doors of Jackson Public Schools’ Murrah High, climbed a nearby overpass not even a mile away, and jumped to her death. Allegedly, she was there was discord between her and her mother, which resulted in bouts of homelessness where she was left vulnerable to sexually assault. We won’t know what went through her mind either. But one sentiment I kept seeing from folks commenting online is that the younger generation is “soft” and “coddled” … too fragile to deal with real life issues. Cheslie and Akiriyiah weren’t “tough enough” to work through their problems, simply because they weren’t born before the 90s. These statements are fallacious and harmfully misconceive the effects of mental health and illness in the Black community.
One thing we must do is stop saying these kids today are “softer than we were.” Truth is, they are exposed to more external stimuli than any previous generation. They exist in a world that moves five times as fast as it did in my teens. Honestly, I’ve got grown kids in their mid 20s, and the world my 12-year-old lives in now moves even faster than theirs did. I’ve had to readjust my parenting and unlearn some of what I did before in order to keep up.
I know it sounds good to wax nostalgic and talk about how much “tougher” we were. But we weren’t. We were just as fragile. There wasn’t social media and a 24-hour news cycle either. There weren’t smartphones that acted as mini computers. And you couldn’t get paid or famous for making videos online. The bullies couldn’t continue to harass you after school via your home computer or phone either.
That “toughness” my peers love to refer to is unresolved trauma. Things that you were forced to swallow because there weren’t as many mental health counselors in schools. Things you didn’t face that you carried into adulthood that made you a broken adult that says things like “I was bullied and picked on in school and I turned out fine” or “the world isn’t roses and sunshine.” That doesn’t make you tougher than either of those young ladies. It makes you lucky!
We expect these kids to suck it up, bottle it up, and put it away … like some of us did … and then expect them to function normally. It just doesn’t work like that. Instead of the finger-pointing and blame game, we need to try to ensure that incidents like these I’ve mentioned don’t continue to rise. Fact is, if Akiriyiah was indeed being bullied at home, then it started with a grown-up who was too damaged themselves to parent effectively. And if the people around Cheslie were more attentive and not blinded by celebrity, it could have prompted someone to look deeper into her life.
I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know is as a parent we’ve got to speak life and love into these babies. Not the old school “toughen up buttercup” crap that folks my age and before think works.