High school mental health needs to be addressed

The following story was written by a student on the staff of The Jaguar Times as part of Hilliard Bradley High School’s Journalism Production course.

by Charlie Kaneer, Staff Writer

Mental wellness, especially in the last year, has been the topic of many high schools. With the rise in teenage suicide, school shootings, and cyber bulling, adults have finally realized the issues that need to be addressed. Family and teachers influence a teen’s life more than any other group of adults. Therefore, it is these groups of adults that are in charge of implementing mental wellness tactics in their impressionable apprentices.

So how can parents help? In many ways, parental care has been strained this generation due to work hours, misunderstanding, divorce, or many other outside factors. School Syntero Counselor, Ms. Musto, details, “kids are home alone before and after school and they don’t get to see their parents outside of a rushed environment. The family itself is de-structured, and there’s not a lot of relationships.” Because of this, many teenagers have grown up with a lack of emotional control, emotional response tactics, and proper relationship building in social situations. It can also be noted that taking a night out of every week to eat dinner, watch a movie, or play games together does wonders for the family structure.

Teenagers have rushed childhoods. As technology has quickened society’s pace, childhoods have been sped up along with it. Parents rely on technology more and more to help raise their children due to their own busy schedules. Needless to say, the rush to grow up and take care of yourself is devastating to a teen’s mental wellness. Teenagers are treated like children and expected to act grown up. As a parent, one should treat teens fairly and avoid sounding condescending, especially when the teen is talking about their struggles. Hanna Mesa (11) expresses methods her own parents took to help her, saying “Parents can seek help and advocate for their kids! I personally suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and because my parents recognized I was struggling and put me in therapy as well as started me on medicine and my mental health has greatly improved.” Most parents need to show more support instead of devaluing their teenager’s feelings. 

How can teachers help? Teachers spend five days out of the week with their students in intimate learning environments. Teachers often get to know their students well through their writing, learning habits, and emotional tendencies. Most teachers feel devastated when they see a student struggling with mental health. However, many teachers fear overstepping boundaries or making the student uncomfortable. School Psychologist, Mrs. Fatzinger, provides a solution, noting “I think teachers can best address mental health needs in the classroom by forming relationships with students. It is important for students to feel connected to school and to have an adult in the building whom they trust and can go to for support. Teachers can help foster these relationships by creating classroom environments that feel safe and are inclusive.” Simply showing a student that they are cared for might allow them to open up and have a safe space within the classroom. Student, Magan Looney (11), offers her own advice for teachers. She believes, “Teachers can be flexible with students who have mental health issues. Be open with [your] students and let them know you’re here for us. We are often feeling really bad and our grades may slip or assignments may get turned in late. Please be forgiving. Ask us if something is wrong. It’s usually what we need.” Practicing compassion is crucial in dealing with any social circumstances. Using empathetic methods in classrooms could prove to be beneficial.

Some teachers find that many students find solace and comfort in the work they’re given. Art Teacher Mrs. Boiarski realized, “I feel like art specifically gives students an outlet and gives students a way to express themselves without having to talk out loud about things that are bothering them.” Art has been a common coping mechanism for years, as has writing. English teacher, Ms. Kartavich, recognizes this, saying “I think the most important thing is to talk about it, and break the stigma about mental health. In my English classes we have a lot of discussions, and in the appropriate context, I think it would be great to talk about mental health and ways to help out peers who are struggling. I also do a lot of Rhetorical Analysis cold reads, and I could definitely find writings that inform and educate students about mental health, and incorporate it into more assignments.” Discussing mental wellness in a calm, professional setting can help students feel comfortable putting their feelings into words. Devices such as poetry and creative writing are also common outlets where teenagers can vent their lives in settings they craft to rationalize their troubles.

Not every teen deals with mental wellness in the same way. Some teens do not struggle as much as others. Bri Jones (11) expresses her take on being neurotypical (not experiencing any atypical patterns or behaviors) and the acceptance of her neurodivergent peers. “Even as someone who considers herself to be ‘neurotypical,’ I feel that students with mental wellness problems should be accommodated in the classrooms. For example, students should be able to feel comfortable talking with teachers about rearranging due dates and whatever else minimizes their already increased stress. Teachers need to recognize that helping these students will help performance for them as well as their friends and classmates.” Teens who struggle with mental wellness should not be made to feel like they are lesser than their peers. They are loved and accepted by people despite differences.

Students are also capable of finding their own coping mechanisms outside of school. Aforementioned, art and writing are notable coping mechanisms. However, much more realistically, teens tend to turn to the internet. In the past year, a “wholesome movement” has overtaken the art and meme world. Pictures filled with cute animals telling the reader they are beautiful and worth life are not uncommon. Occasionally, an artist will make a comic reminding the reader to drink water, eat food, and take their medications. To combat the stigma of negative internet interactions, this wholesome movement has helped many people improve their mental wellness by surrounding themselves by positivity.

Mental wellness deserves to be discussed openly and addressed seriously. Teens need all the support they can get in school, out of school, and in their own personal spaces. Parents, school administrators, and peers all play a part in the development of a teen’s emotional headspace. Therefore, knowing and applying these roles is the most important thing. Do research, ask questions if needed, and provide a safe space; then one can truly play their part.