The Umbrella Over Mental Health: Opinion

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The Umbrella Over Mental Health: Opinion

Mariana Bendinelli (10) looks down at all the homework she has to complete.  She felt overwhelmed.

Mariana Bendinelli (10) looks down at all the homework she has to complete. She felt overwhelmed.

Mariana Bendinelli (10) looks down at all the homework she has to complete. She felt overwhelmed.

Mariana Bendinelli (10) looks down at all the homework she has to complete. She felt overwhelmed.

Cindy Torres

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Mental illness is a new epidemic that I feel our nation tends to stay silent about. Why is that? Could it be that many people don’t believe that mental illness is real? Or could it simply just be that raising awareness about mental illness is considered socially unacceptable? Over the course of these past few years, I’ve noticed a drastic change in students’ opinions about their school environment, whether it be the attitude students may have about school, or the common saying is, “Sometimes school just gets to be too much,” or “School has worsened my anxiety.” Due to this, I have decided to get an inside look as to how school can affect a student’s mental illness, with an interview with Lake Central’s guidance counselor, Ms. Nicole Raber.

According to the American Psychology Association (APA), one in five children have a diagnosable emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder. Yet, nearly 80 percent of children do not receive the actual medical attention they need. Treated or not, students still have to go to school. The problems they experience at home, or in school, tie into the problems administration faces with students. Dropping out, low attendance rates and bad grades are just some of the few primary examples. According to an article written by the APA, studies show that children today report having more anxiety than those in a psychiatric facility in the 1950s. Can school be what is causing this?

Some people may say that school can be what affects himself or herself the most, and it can be what takes a negative toll on their mental health. The need to do well, get good grades and do well on tests can become a lot more than what students can handle. Out of these people, however, many are scared to speak up and ask for help. They may feel as though, because their problems regard mental health, they may not be seen as valid.

“Those who may be negatively impacted by school, may already have at home issues in their life. I would say that there are a lot of kids who experience anxiety when coming to school, because they have perfectionistic type qualities. Or they may have a diagnosis of anxiety and depression, and school may just heighten those things,” said Raber.  

Kids can feel like they don’t fit in with the “social norms” of high school, or they become overwhelmed with the workload school gives or simply just the environment that brings upon more stress than anticipated. However, can teachers and staff become the outlet that these students need?

According to the National Public Radio (NPR), students may sometimes feel invisible.  Many saying, “Not once did a teacher or principal ask me ‘What’s wrong?’ when they notice changes in school performance.” I believe that teachers have the ability to be the gateway into improving mental health nationwide.

“Do I think that schools can do a better job at offering mental health services? Yes I do. I think schools can do a better job at acknowledging mental health, or providing the sources that are needed for the kids who are struggling. Putting it out there and making it more normal, schools can definitely do a better job with. It is definitely not going to be easy, but I think we can do it,” said Raber.  

Due to the lack of awareness society provides about mental health, there is a trend in the students saying “I have to deal with it on my own because no one cares.” For some students, all they need is an outlet to know that they are being heard, or that they matter, but are schools providing this?

“I believe that we are currently fighting a societal umbrella about mental health. The ‘Mental health is not cool,’ or the ‘Mental health is not real, you are just lazy and there is something wrong with you,’ is what we are having the most trouble with. I get frustrated with students, because many of them only see us counselors as ‘Oh I can only talk to them about college, not mental health stuff.’ They don’t see us as the role that can help with mental health, and that to me is very sad,” said Raber.

The NPR states that teachers who see students more are more aware of noticable changes in students, but teachers do not receive the mental health training to help a student who may be experiencing problems with depression and anxiety.

“As counselors, we receive education, in just about any counseling you can imagine.  It would only take me two more classes to become a certified mental health therapist.  That is just how close we are, but then we get to school. We as counselors go through all of that training, and then we do schedules for most of our time in high school.  So we really have to change the way counselors are used at the high school level. In elementary schools you have more of the mental health aspect, ‘Good touch bad touch,’ and so on. Then you go to the middle school level, where you still involve mental health, but you focus more on bullying and how social media is affecting students now, and how to provide awareness for it. Then you get to high school and you are mainly just working on college things. I can count on my fingers the amount of students I have, that actually come down to see me for mental health reasons,” said Raber.  

In our education system,a lack of resources can prevent teachers and staff from being able to help students combat mental issues. Although schools provide programs such as D.A.R.E., or presentations such as Stairway to Heroin, not once have I heard them talk about what leads a child into substance abuse. Mental health can be directly linked to these issues. If a child feels as though they have nowhere to turn in order to be happy, they may just turn to drugs or alcohol. If a school were to raise awareness about mental health, and ensure that students are mentally healthy, would that lead to a decrease in substance abuse?

“The push for college and careers is very prominent in the education system. The ‘You won’t have a life if you don’t go to college,’ has become more influential to students.  I believe that students today have it worse than I did because you have all this testing. College readiness is essentially the big umbrella over us as counselors. We have to push to prepare our students for college and life, so we tend to miss the mental health aspect of counseling for our students. Sometimes I feel like the umbrella message is what gets out, until you sit down with the teacher or counselor you have the closest relationship to and you actually have a conversation with them, you realize that we are here to help. I was at Clark for 10 years, and 85 percent of what I dealt with was anxiety and the physical and mental tolls it has on a person. Our society has been lacking the ability to provide the fundamental things children need such as comfort and attention and the money and ability to provide for a family become the only thing on a person’s mind,” said Raber.

According to the American School Counselor Association, the recommended student to counselor ratio should be  250-1. In Lake Central,however, we have a 450-1. Not only can school overwhelm students, but our staff as well. Being in charge of so many students has been proven to be quite difficult. This essentially leading to the lack of attention we can provide to the students who seem to be struggling. If we as an education system work to improve these ratios, I believe a school can be seen as a safe zone for us students. A place where we can go and know that someone is there for us, that can help us through anything we are going through. By providing more programs, counselors, or help outlets for students, I believe we can help decrease the amount of anxiety in students today. Now is the time to can take initiative and fight this societal umbrella. Let us bring awareness to the issues no one likes to talk about and begin to improve our students’ lives one step at a time.