Mental health is no joke
The rise in mental health related challenges deserves to be taken seriously
“Honestly, thinking about the future and what school I’m going to go to and what I’m going to be doing with my life later on scares me because it makes me stress out so much because I’m constantly thinking about it, even if I’m on vacation or trying to relax,” said junior Mariam Rushtuni. “It’s constantly on my mind, and I’m constantly thinking about school and my work.”
Like Mariam, many high school students feel anxious and concerned about their lives. Every now and then, teenagers tend to feel more irritable and upset than usual due to stress or anxiety. In some cases, these feelings are temporary, and other times, they can be key indicators of a major underlying problem regarding their mental health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of anxiety and depression diagnosis in children living in the United States from ages 6-17 have risen substantially from 5.3 percent in 2003 to 8.4 percent in 2012. The rate continues to escalate drastically through the years as well.
In addition, according to a study conducted by Case Western University, teenagers and children report and manifest higher levels of anxiety than those of psychiatric patients in the 1950s. The study details that due to this, the ever increasing rate of depression will continue to rise substantially. According to the report, a contributor to this statistic is easy access to illegal drugs which is a considerable factor in the rising rates of depression, which in turn is detrimental to adolescents’ physical health.
Stress and anxiety in teenagers can be attributed to a combination of factors. Academic stress, like that Rushtuni faces, can be enough for a student to feel pressured beyond normal. Because high school is crucial to the determination of students’ futures, it can be especially pressuring. According to the American Psychological Association, adolescent stress levels during the school year surpass levels of stress in adults’ everyday lives due to the pressure academic rigor places on them.
In other cases, stress and anxiety are products of personal challenges. “I’d say half of my stress is from loss of family and the other half comes from health,” said junior Vahe Haleblian. Haleblian, like many of his peers, feels anxious and experiences occasional panic attacks. However, he has developed healthy coping mechanisms to make himself feel better. “To calm myself down, I like to exercise, go out after school on Fridays with friends, and play with my dog.”
Despite the recognition of mental health issues, many adolescents fail to obtain proper assistance in dealing with these problems. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 50.6 percent of children from ages 6-17 receive adequate and sufficient treatment for their needs.
Failure to obtain proper help is often due to social and cultural stigma, most notably in a school setting. The fear of being looked down upon by peers and instructors often prevents teenagers from reaching out to get help when they most need it at school. “It’s important that we understand that there is self-reflection and self-improvement and really caring about your well being is an important part of living a happy and healthy life,” said AP Psychology teacher Patrick Davarhanian. “There is absolutely no connection to being weak or inferior, and unfortunately, in some cultures, there is a stigma around getting help, seeing a therapist, or talking about your problems. Time and time again, we have seen that the best way to improve your life and succeed is to talk about your problems, to seek help,” he added.
Many teens are fearful of recognizing that they have mental health problems due to the fear of being shunned by their peers. United States History teacher Eric Kursinski says he is a living testament of just that. “I remember as a teenager I had a really hard time with [getting help] because I would tell myself ‘If you’re going to get help, then that means there is something wrong with you,’” he said. “That made me think ‘If nobody else knows that I’m going through this, then good because then I appear normal to everybody.”
A common belief among many adolescents is that teachers are not understanding and disregard mental health over academic performance, which attributes to their fear of getting help from them. Kursinski disagrees. “Your teachers care about you, and they might not express it as outwardly or directly as some teachers do, but they definitely all care about their students,” he said. “They wouldn’t be teachers if they didn’t like their students, because that’s the whole point of being a teacher, having students.”
Mathematics teacher Amir Ghavam agrees. “We really don’t coordinate against students when planning assignments,” he says. “Bad grades don’t affect the perception I have of my students. Life is going to go on.”
There are many resources available that can help students get extra assistance if they need it. Casey Schaeffer is available at Clark Magnet High School on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. If students are in need of assistance from him, he is available for check ins on those days. Students may explain their challenges and feelings in a confidential, professional environment in order to obtain help from Schaeffer.
“At Clark, I support all students whether they are in special education or general education. I am here for all sorts of different supports, most notably the social, emotional aspect of school life,” Schaeffer said. “Peer relationships, study skills, work habits, things of that nature.”
If it is deemed that the student requires extra support, counseling from one of Clark’s social worker interns will be implemented. This, however, requires a consent form to be signed by the student and his or her legal guardian or guardians. Counseling is performed weekly in 30-minute sessions during classes the student feels comfortable being excused from.
In addition, teachers and staff can be an extra source of support in assisting their students with their needs and concerns. For example, Kursinski has invested into creating a “Mindfulness Corner” for students to use based on their needs. The area offers a secluded, tranquil environment with resource books and activities, such as coloring, in hopes of making a student feel better when challenges surface.
At most schools, counselors and psychologists designated to the campus are available at no fee. School districts offer services to support students and their families such as counseling. Glendale Unified School District offers free access to school counselors, social workers and interns, and licenced therapists upon request and with the written approval of the student’s parents or guardians.
“Often students are not aware that they can come in to talk to us at anytime,” Schaeffer said. “We have myself, the psychologist, that is available as an as needed basis for students experiencing emotional difficulties or social difficulties, as well as wonderful interns who work with us on a daily basis for mental health, social, and emotional needs.