Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-14. One in six U.S. youths from ages 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year, and one in five adults. All people have a fragile emotional, psychological, and social well-being with the power to alter their cognition, perception, and behavior if not properly tended to, otherwise known as your mental health. Who are among some of the most vulnerable and susceptible when it comes to mental wellness? Students. Kids.
It's almost December, and as students, we know what that means — midterms. We worry about final exams, papers, and presentations and what grades will wind up on our first-semester report cards. School can affect our mental health, something I and countless others can say with confidence. While grades are certainly an important part of school, are they everything? And at what cost? Could the public school system try harder to provide mental health resources to their students? When they get ready for mid-term checks, perhaps they should also consider a mental health check.
This strain is not just congruent with mid-terms and finals but at any time. Adolescents experience many social and developmental challenges inside and outside the classroom. When paired with a growing brain and intense hormones, a perfect storm of mental health struggles and symptoms is created. The field of psychology, social work, and counseling has evolved greatly in the last 20 years, thanks to advances in the understanding of development, learning, and mental health on a neurological level, above and beyond merely observable behaviors. If ever there was a time with ample resources and reducing stigmas surrounding mental health, it's now. Yet, students right here in Knox County do not feel that their mental health is a priority within schools. I asked students from different districts of all ages and backgrounds to anonymously provide me with anything they wish they could express to their district regarding mental health.
Here are some quotes."I don't think I have heard the words "Are you OK?", from an administrator more than twice in all the years I've gone here;" "Sometimes it feels like professors don't understand that there is more to life than just turning things in on time and citing your sources. We're real people with real emotions and real things we go through;" "Wait, do we even have a counselor?;" "Students are overlooked. Whether it's abuse at home, depression, or student-athlete burnout, it will affect your schoolwork. We get in trouble for a zero, a tardy, or a fistfight, but there is always something more behind it. There are warning signs even I can see, so why can't they?;" "When good students miss a homework assignment, they're struggling. The students whose grades are slipping and have dozens of missing assignments, they're lazy. It isn't dug deeper into than that, and that's how people fall through the cracks;" "I wish problems like anxiety and depression were focused on as much as dress codes and test scores.;" "I think schools are constantly searching for ways to deal with mental health instead of finding ways to heal it."
There it is, from the very mouths of students. I asked a local mental health professional about her opinion regarding the mental health of young people in the education system, and here is what she had to say. "It's encouraging to see the slow trickle of additional resources for teachers and students. More access to mental healthcare, and social-emotional learning, moving away from outdated disciplinary tactics. As a clinical counselor, I want people to know there is growing awareness and evidence for moving toward improved mental health training and resources in schools. Mental health is talked about more openly now, and the younger generation is more open to receiving support. Schools helping teens be critical thinkers and active information consumers are essential here. Advocacy starts with awareness — and being aware of the positive impact social-emotional learning has on students, from improved testing scores to reduced drug use- is the place to start."
Providing support to students is more than hiring a counselor and putting the suicide hotline number on the back of an I.D.. It's about providing them a place to go not just for their gen-eds but a place where they feel seen and heard. They are more than a letter grade or statistic, but a future member of society. Our mental health doesn't deserve a "handle with care" stamp like a fragile package; it deserves to be prioritized. Give back to the community, and teach these students not only that it is okay to struggle but how to seek the help they deserve.
Sarah Brown is a Williamsfield High School student with a passion for writing. She contributes to the weekly Many Paths column.
This article originally appeared on Galesburg Register-Mail: Sarah Brown: Mental health checks, not mid-term checks