Mental illness. Something many are afraid of and even more pretend does not exist at all. Many humans succumb to the human tendency to not believe until one sees. Many do not realize how destructive this behavior is to the mindsets and lives of human beings. Being unaware is a misfortune, but being ignorant is a choice. The ignorance surrounding mental health difficulties perpetuate the stigmatization of it. The stigma, otherwise known as a negative stereotype, is that mental illness is a choice. That mental illness is something to look down upon, something to be ashamed of. That mental illness defines a person completely, they are the illness, the illness is them. The growth of the stigma around mental illness has lead our society down a deep hole, that if we do not take steps to fix now, we may never be able to climb out of.
Nowadays, children and teens have a reputation quite different from the reputation of previous generations, or even their parents, had when growing up. Adolescents are known for being way more overwhelmed, in many aspects. Some could say the current state of the American society drives teens to become anxious or develop other mental illnesses. The constant pressure to get into a top-tier school, obtain a 4.0 GPA, keep up to date on social media, thrive socially, be an exquisite athlete or lead in the school play, and remain sane all at the same time are just a few of the expectations put on teens today, especially in high school and into college.
The pressure to be perfect can be one of the many factors to blame for the increasing amount of teens suffering from mental illness since 2012, after decades of relative stability. Of all mental illnesses, depression and anxiety disorders have proven to be the most prominent throughout the past decade in high school students.
Everybody knows someone who suffers from a mental illness whether they know it or not. It is a friend, a family member, a classmate, or even oneself. Everyday, I pass the school counselors office on my way to my 5th block Spanish class. No matter the time, I see kids sitting patiently outside of her office, desperately hoping she can fit them in. This daily walk has had the greatest impact on me.
Throughout my high school career, I have seen the detrimental effects anxiety and depression can have on students. Whether that results in dropping out of a sport, grades lowering, one’s inability to focus in school or even needing to temporarily leave school for a couple months in order to go to treatment, and those are just the few clinically diagnosed students. Passing our counselor’s office everyday made me start to think about the prominence of anxiety and depression in my own school and that not enough is being done in my community to address the unsaid prominence of mental health problems in our own halls. My objective is to educate my school community about the prominence of mental illnesses, specifically depression and anxiety disorders, at my school and the impact they have on students. Encouraging students to see see how prevalent depression and anxiety is in our own community can help better their understanding of just how prominent these mental illnesses are. I hope to help my school community gain empathy and understanding for those struggling.
I have multiple events planned and ways to help end the stigma at my school and educate my community! Here is the first one that happened on April 19th, 2017:
Over the course of two lunch blocks (1.5 hours total) on April 19th, I had Shaina Rud, an alum from my school, as well as mental health counselor and student (about to receive her masters in Abnormal Psychology this coming May) come in and speak (drawing from her personal experience/time at Blake) about how mental health has only gotten worse since her time there about 10 years ago. She gave information pertaining to prevention, treatment, coping and supporting. Throughout the presentation, students chimed in and it became more of a round table discussion and if anyone had a question, Shaina was able to get their questions answered which was really great. I believe incorporating a personal touch to the presentation (having an alum come) helped everyone to be able to relate to the anxiety, depression and stress the majority of students at my specific school encounter on a daily basis. It had a great turnout, with tons of students (from all grades 9-12) and teachers involved and definitely introduced a new kind of conversation into my school.
Below are photos from the first lunch presentation/discussion with Shaina. This was the smaller group, whereas second lunch had 2-3 times as many students from all grades!
My next steps are to continue introducing and normalizing the discussion around mental illness at my school as well as inform parents and teachers about the prevalence in order to help students have better support systems.
- On May 11th I have Nancy Howe, a representative from NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), coming to my school to set up what she calls a “shoe day”. She will set up in the lunchroom so every student in the high school (500 kids) participates and everybody gets to write on a their own paper shoe their “step” towards promoting mental health and ending the stigma surround mental illness. This is a great interactive activity that will get ever student involved and talking about mental health in our community.
- I also made a big poster that I am hanging in one of the main entrances to my school. The poster (shown below) displays a picture of the brain and has arrows pointing to different parts of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, and describes how different parts of the brain and abnormalities involving those parts can contribute to the development or severity of various mental illness such as schizophrenia or PTSD. With this poster, my hope is to end the stigma that mental illness is a choice… because as we all know, it is not.
- I also plan to be involved in recruiting speakers for teacher and parent meetings for the fall of next school year to educate them on symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and most importantly, ways to support their student or child.
How can YOU make a change at your school in the field of mental health?
Are there systems of education surrounding mental health at your school for students, teachers and parents? If not, how can I get involved in creating them?
What are ways students can learn to manage their stress levels and school work in a health manner? How can I apply these helpful tools to my own stress?
Garcia, Andres. Andres Garcia to Behance web forum, “Mental Illness in College Students,” January 29, 2013. Accessed April 16, 2017. https://www.behance.net/gallery/6906527/Mental-Illness-in-college-students-Infographic.
Onenuero. “Stats Related with Anxiety and Depression Disorder.” Visually. Last modified March 3, 2015. Accessed April 17, 2017. http://visual.ly/stats-related-anxiety-depression-disorder.
Rosales, John. “Paraprofessionals Come Together to Fight the Stigma of Mental Illness.”NeaToday. Last modified March 31, 2017. Accessed April 23, 2017. http://neatoday.org/2017/03/31/fighting-stigma-mental-illness/.
Schrobsdorff, S. (2016). The Kids Are Not All Right. Time, (19), 44-51. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Discussion pictures taken by Dion Crushon (grade dean)