Destinee Dockhorn, a Hunterdon Central sophomore, remembers elementary school, where she would have severe panic attacks. “They used to get so bad that my hands would feel numb,” Dockhorn said. She recalls being in 3rd grade, receiving play-date invites from friends, and having to decline because she was seemingly trapped in her anxious mind.
Destinee, now a compassionate teen with a contagious laugh, says that her panic attacks all begin similarly. “I start with thinking a lot,” she said. “Then I feel like I can’t catch my breath like there is a weight on my chest. It goes on for 10-15 minutes at most sometimes.”
Dockhorn is one of the 31.9% of adolescents that struggle with an anxiety disorder before the age of 18 and used to be one of the 14.3% of adolescents between the ages of 13-17 that struggle with depression.
According to the Child Mind Institute, “High school students today have more anxiety symptoms and are twice as likely to see a mental health professional as teens in the 1980s”. Dockhorn, like others her age, has battled mental illness.
Dockhorn has always been an empathetic person, and worries for her peers during the quarantine. She noted a few issues that she thought were most prevalent during isolation. “I feel like the most challenging parts of quarantine are just having to adjust to how life is now, and some students are dealing with death and loss, not being able to see your friends, and not being able to be in person with friends,” she said.
Now, during the pandemic, Dockhorn has had more time on her hands. “Overall quarantine is negative. You are stuck at your house; Students like certain schedules and a lot of people want control, but we cannot be in control at this time,” she said.
Like Dockhorn, one of the counselors for the class of 2021 at Hunterdon Central, Mrs. Anne Biber, feels a lack of control in life right now, especially during the pandemic. “Though there are many things right now in our life that we can’t control, everybody recognizes that we have things that are still in our control too. I love to bake, so every day I bake something, and that brings me joy. It is in my control to do something every day that brings me joy,” she said. Biber encourages others – teachers, students, parents – to do the same.
Although Dockhorn hasn’t been able to visit friends during the pandemic, she continues to find ways to stay in control and do things she loves: watching movies, FaceTiming friends (sometimes up to 12 hours), and spending time with her family. However, Dockhorn still wishes she was back in school laughing with her friends. “I am so used to being with my friends and doing color guard, and once that was canceled I was a little upset, but I like to look on the bright side of things and I am hopeful for next year,” she said.
When she was younger, Dockhorn was never with others; Right now, they are more important than ever to her. “My favorite things to do are hang out with my friends and have fun. When I was younger I never really did a lot because I was so nervous and anxious,” she said.
Now, during the pandemic, Dockhorn has not been able to be with others; it has been challenging to comfort her struggling friends. “My friends are going through a lot, and not being able to hug and tell them that it’s going to be okay is difficult. I know we can FaceTime but actually being there is much better,” she said.
Dockhorn carried her empathy and kindness with her to high school. At Central, she is in the Student Wellness Advisory Club and Strides Against Stigma, where she is an advocate for student mental health.
Mrs. Dana Kurilew, the Supervisor of Counseling Services at Hunterdon Central, voiced how students like Dockhorn fulfill her. “Our kids really do a great job [of] protecting themselves and others. That is one of the great parts about working at Central; The kids are really wonderful,” she said.
Like Kurilew mentioned, Dockhorn relied on her friends to distract and protect her when she felt her anxiety manifesting. “My one friend is my rock. When I was younger I used to be nervous a lot in kindergarten, so she would come up with random things and just talk to me,” she said. “She came up with this one song, and I still remember it. She used to sing it to me every time I got nervous to make me laugh.”
Communicating with friends has been one of the most beneficial ways that Dockhorn has released nerves and stayed present; She repeatedly acknowledged the impact that her friends have on her and expressed that it is almost impossible to feel anxious when she is laughing with them. Whenever Dockhorn begins to feel anxious, just like in kindergarten, she speaks to others who can help her. “If I am with my friends that know about [my anxiety], I will talk about it, and I think having people to talk to helps a lot,” she said.
Kurilew was able to sum up the entire Counseling department’s overall feelings about working from home during the pandemic. “We miss them. We miss school. We aren’t in a job that we don’t want to be at. There are a lot of adults that look at jobs as work, but for us it’s not. It’s our life. It’s a place where we help change lives, and the students help make us better people and fulfill us as well. We can’t wait until we are back in school,” she said.
Kurilew also recognized the members of her department. “The Counselors are doing a phenomenal job; Their hearts are very big, and a lot of them are working until 5 o’clock. We’re getting there, and every week it gets a little bit easier,” she said.
Dockhorn hopes that students are reaching out for help if needed and that counselors are continuing to talk to students. “I feel like the counselors should reach out to every student at least once because knowing that someone is there means a lot to students,” she said.
Mrs. Katey Edgar, a Student Assistance Counselor, has been giving students support and encouragement virtually, as Dockhorn hoped. “[All of the student assistance counselors] created a Google Classroom and we post every day: Sometimes it’s a question, sometimes it’s an activity, but all of it is focused on positivity and helping you guys with processing it all, just giving you strategies,” she said.
Dockhorn encourages others to use the coping tools that are given through the school, talk about mental illness, and be kind. “I feel like everyone is going through something, everyone has their own story, and everyone should treat others with kindness. They might have a lot going on, but they might just not say it, or mask it. There are so many people that I know would help, so always just speak out,” she said. Although Dockhorn was once in a dark mindset, she was able to pull herself out and push through the hardships.
Dockhorn knows the internal stress that mental illness creates, and has advice for anyone who may be struggling. “I think the best thing for them to do is reach out to a friend or a counselor, whoever, talking about it is better than not talking about it,” she said.
Dockhorn, who was once on the verge of giving up, found the courage to speak out, and encourages others who may be struggling to do the same. “Just remember that you aren’t alone. There are so many people who love you and care about you. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, that is the first step in your journey. Asking for help isn’t showing weakness, it’s showing strength. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It will get better” 🔆
2nd Floor of New Jersey: youth have access to confidential help through phone or text (1–888–222–2228).
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: access their hotline at 1–800–273–8255.