“How are you?”
When junior Olivia Fleming read that question on a routine form at the doctor’s office in the summer of 2020, she started crying.
“It was hard to get the words out,” Fleming said. “I remember my KN95 mask was drenched with tears. Looking back on it, it’s very surreal.”
By that time, it had been months since Fleming had last seen her friends. Without schoolwork to distract her and without people outside of her family to spend time with, Fleming started spending hours per day on TikTok.
“I would be in bed and my thoughts would just kind of be like a cloud around me,” Fleming said. “There wouldn’t be any place to escape, so then that cloud would just kind of accumulate. And there was no way to get past it. There was no ‘Okay, I have to wake up. I have to go to school.’ There was just ‘I could stay in bed.’”
Fleming was grappling with her identity, while under intense academic pressure, with the added burden of social media — amid a global pandemic.
“It was just kind of this spiraling effect,” she said.
For senior Emily Geraghty, that spiral started in seventh grade, when her best friend moved to a different middle school. Without friends to turn to, Geraghty was isolated.
At the time, she also had undiagnosed ADHD, making school work almost impossible, especially outside of a classroom setting. It was obvious that something was wrong, but Geraghty didn’t know how to describe her feelings — and even if she could, she didn’t think it was allowed to.
That reticence began in elementary school, when students nicknamed Geraghty “EM-otional” for showing her feelings. Afraid of being a burden or being teased by the boys who were her playground companions, Geraghty learned early on to feel less, to share less, and to ask fewer questions.
“I think it comes from middle school and elementary school of just not knowing how to deal with it in a healthy way,” Geraghty said. “So I just didn’t deal with it at all.”
Although avoidance worked in the short term, it contributed to nagging, incessant fears about the future — a combination of intense anxiety and depression.
“I can see no future because I can’t even do my English essay,” Geraghty said. “How can I have a job? How can I go to college? How can I do anything?”
The pandemic made everything worse: Confined to her house, she lost any connection to students or the classroom. Between November 2020 and March 2021, Geraghty didn’t speak to a single person outside of her family.
It was the worst moment of my life. I think in 2020, I had reached a breaking point in myself. That hopelessness. I did not see any type of future for myself.”
— Emily Geraghty
“I had those scary thoughts of ‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’” Geraghty said. “And thank God, I was scared. I was still wanting to be here at least a little bit.”
Eventually, Geraghty and Fleming both sought and found help from medical professionals. But their circumstances aren’t unique, and they are far from alone at Burlingame.
In the B’s poll, 57.7% of respondents said they felt sad or hopeless sometimes, frequently, or all the time — identical to the national average recorded by the CDC. While the CDC found that 30% of female high school students seriously considered attempting suicide, 46% of survey respondents said they have experienced suicidal thoughts.
Although the CDC does not track data on self-inflicted injuries, the B’s survey also found that two-thirds of respondents have considered harming themselves, and 64% know firsthand someone who does harm to themselves.