Mental Health Must Be Prioritized

Mental illness—the silent and long growing plague striking throughout a lifetime—has become so ostracsized in adolescents; one in five children aged 9-17 suffer from diagnosable mental health disorders.

These misinformations created by stigmas, stereotypes and generalizations forced onto youth has made it easy for teens and tweens to latch onto these vague descriptions assuming it is a sustainable amount of information to rely on. Not only does this lack of information leave many struggling from mental disorders to suffer in a confusing silence, it gives those living without these disorders a freedom to speak and act how they please with an oblivious consciousness to how it could affect those possibly struggling. Moreover, this is a continuing problem that has grown so out of hand to the point where adolescents intentionally pick fun at these issues without thinking about the people who could be suffering around them.

Though most easily seen through the eyes of other adolescents, varying perspectives of the mistreatment of mental health observe this epidemic in the youth at different rates of concern. From parents to guidance counselors to child therapists, each witness’ perspective provides a diverse sense of a solution to this growing compilation.

“I feel like most of the teachers do not really care. You have to go out of your way for help rather than just having people check in on you,” sophomore Max Koepenick said. “Some teachers just do their job and nothing else.” 

The feeling of helplessness and worthlessness paced as the cherry on top of a multitude of issues plaguing a single student only emphasizes the pressure and anxiety of a school day, let alone the hours upon hours of work that follows the day’s end.

“Sometimes [schools] just need to let kids take the day off,” Koepenick said. “Everyone needs a day off every once in a while. There should be a way to fit that in. Not even if you are physically sick because mentally sick is just the same thing.” 

Schools often preach making their community a safe space, especially considering the amount of students that leave only to enter unsafe homes. These criticisms and comments made by others in their “safe community” leave many students feeling unsafe, possibly leaving them with the feeling that there is nowhere safe for them to go.

“Triggers [at school] could easily be avoided by teachers. I think you can train teachers better but I do not think there is any way to fix students,” Koepenick said. “You can work on them but students are always going to be the way they are.”

As adolescents have a more head-on—and possibly personal perspective of this crisis, adults specialized in these problems help create a clear path for students’ safety and well-being. Walpole High School nurse Erin Foley, though new to working with students at the school, observes the students’ mental health crisis. 

“As long as the person can identify themselves and their problem, which can be hard sometimes, the school will make a plan with them,” Foley said. “When they come in, it will notify them how to approach them or what kind of assistance they might need.”

Though many have suffered from mental health and health complications well before the current timeline, the COVID-19 pandemic has reached many more citizens and broken them down with additional worries—soon developing into mental health issues.

“The sad part about mental health, and other things right now, is that everything has been so [COVID-19] focused that a lot of long-standing health issues have been pushed to the side,” Foley said. 

However many teachers are educated and trained in mental health, the knowledge of the subject needs to be pushed further. Mental health is a topic that does not sit still as is. It is constantly progressing and needs to be taught with such care.

“I think you can never learn enough. “Teachers should one hundred percent be more educated on mental health topics,” Foley said. “There are always new diagnoses, new information and new research. There is always more to learn and the information is constantly evolving.”

Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Outpatient Therapist Taryn Reynolds treats several students that go to Walpole High School while working at Norwood Behavioral Health. Reynolds works with students who have struggled with mental health such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and gender issues. While providing students with rational solutions and coping mechanisms, Reynolds has a more clear understanding of the mistreatment they face and the true effects that has.

“I definitely feel concerned at schools, as I do not feel the mental health at school is being taken seriously,” Reynolds said. “There is a lot of pressure on students, especially to perform well and at a high level of achievement. This is causing a lot of anxiety and depression with students that I work with.”

High school students mainly survive off of the information provided in required health classes. These health classes, however, generally skim the waters of mental illness and leave out many effects and illnesses that can affect anyone. For example, Walpole High School’s education of mental illness covers the most known mental disorders and restates mostly common facts of their effects. Specifically with the topic of eating disorders, only the most represented in the media—anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder—are covered throughout the course. 

“Teachers need to be trained in mental health,” Reynolds said. “There should be education around how to properly manage emotions that students are going through.”

Suffering in silence is the sad reality for most of the population. Many do not know where to reach out for help or are not even aware they need it. Mental health is a growing issue that will not stop on its own. Schools need to monitor these issues and begin to make changes that benefit the students and staff, for lives are at stake and can easily be saved if little care is shown.