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High School: Silence Could Be Deadly

High School: Silence Could Be Deadly

Think back to high school. The three tests you have tomorrow, the crush you can’t stop thinking about, the boys that whistle at you in the halls, that one girl that everyone seems to like, the fear of the teacher calling on you in math class. High school is overwhelming, and in retrospect, can sometimes seem funny--everybody has those cringey adolescent memories. But what many people forget, or choose not to think about is how difficult high school can be when you’re suffering from a mental disorder.

 
  Parenting Teenagers  - Image Source

Parenting Teenagers - Image Source

 

One in five children and adolescents will face a significant mental health condition during their school years.” That’s five students in a class of twenty-five. It makes sense, middle schools and high schools are stressful places. When you factor in academic rigor, social anxiety, bullying, attempts to understand one’s identity, pressure to have sex and drink and do drugs, mental disorders like ADHD and bipolar disorder, sexual violence and harassment, and an array different stressors, school environments prove a very tough place to exist.

            It doesn’t help that our public schools’ mental health resources are vastly underfunded and undeveloped. Student mental health isn’t a top priority until something drastic happens, like a school shooting or a teen suicide. When a school community is in this kind of tragic public crisis, more questions arise about how the schools deal with mental health. Some schools, however, recognize that student mental health is important to monitor, but many of these schools’ mental health programs are simply in over their heads. With funding cut for support services, it’s normal for one school counselor to juggle a caseload of nearly five hundred students (compared to the recommended 250-1 ratio of students to counselors). This understaffing results in too many students flying under the radar, their mental disorders undetected and effectively silenced.

            Why aren’t people talking about student mental health? It’s so frustrating. We keep pushing kids towards top colleges and good grades instead of checking in to see what’s going on in a teenage student’s mind. There’s obviously a lot more than meets the eye because one in five high school students consider suicide, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15-19 years olds. We have popular TV shows like 13 Reasons Why, books such as The Virgin Suicides, and movies like Beautiful Boy that attempt to convey both the seriousness and commonness of mental disorders among teenage kids. But despite concerted efforts, our society continues to silence and ignore the voices of mental illness. We keep expecting kids to just be better.

 
  Inverse.com  - Image Source

Inverse.com - Image Source

 

What can we do about student mental health? So many people ask this question, and so many people are disheartened by the answers. We have teachers, who can serve as mentors but at the same time usually have no mental health training and are teaching dozens of kids a day. We have school psychologists, but they usually oversee numerous and are hard to get ahold of. We also have school counselors, who can serve as great resources but are so often overloaded with hundreds of student cases, and many school counselors have started focusing on academic performance and collegiate goals rather than mental health. It’s the same story with the school nurse; many times nurses are seeing too many people to develop a tight network of personal relationships. So what are we left with? How do we work within a broken system? In many schools, socio-emotional health conferences are offered for teachers to attend, but these conferences are not mandatory. So, if the funding won’t come through to train teachers and to staff counseling departments, then it’s our job to create a system of our own. NPR did a series called “A Silent Epidemic,” where they talked about student mental health, and they came to a conclusion that we agree with.

“From parents to principals to teachers to the lunch staff: Everyone helps create a safe, caring environment..Everyone watches for warning signs in a child — such as changes in mood, headaches, slipping grades and missing class.”


 

 
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The key is communication. No one person or department can tackle a student’s mental illness alone, at least not in the system we’re working with now. Everyone working in a school community is responsible for creating a safe space for students to speak about and seek help with their struggles.


Let’s start a conversation about this “silent epidemic” that is plaguing our students and schools - we can normalize this topic by just talking about it.

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