The Unspoken Problem


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By: Nithya Balakrishnan

Everyday, there are new stresses for teenagers to face. School, friends, grades, family, sports, turning essays in on time, and the looming threat of college just over the horizon. Each day is something new to do, another grade that’s dropped, another opportunity missed. It’s no wonder that 68.8 percent of teenagers get less than eight hours of sleep each night. It’s also no wonder that one in five teenagers will have a serious mental health disorder at some point in his or her life.

So why aren’t we talking about this?

Mental health is one of the most stigmatized topics in society. There is rarely positive representation and conversation around mental health in the media, and any mention of mental illness has negative connotations. Mental illness is often treated as a proxy for what’s wrong with society; the shooter that massacred people in a synagogue wasn’t hateful, he was just sick in the head. Mentally ill people are a burden, a problem, an ugly part of society that we can blame when something goes wrong.

For teenagers dealing with undiagnosed mental illnesses, this rhetoric can dissuade them from seeking help. The common response is to push whatever they’re feeling down and not discuss it with anyone because of external pressures to do well in school or because they think they’re the only one who feels this way.

Why does this matter?

Anxiety and depression are the leading mental health disorders in teenagers. Mental health affects every single aspect of our lives. Depression can lead to isolation and apathy and, potentially, a drop in grades or performance. We feel less motivated to complete our homework or practice our sport or instrument, even reluctance to go to school. Anxiety negatively impacts students, to the point of panic attacks and mental breakdowns. Hostile school environments can contribute to students’ anxiety about interacting with peers, and many students have anxiety over school work and pressures to succeed.

With all these factors taken into consideration, it’s no wonder that conversations about mental health are few and far between. There aren’t real solutions to many problems; speakers that come to schools often make blanket statements, telling kids to talk to someone, to reach out. But administrators and the adults in our lives don’t often provide students opportunities to do that.

It can be daunting to talk to our parents or friends, even more so if they are the source of stress and deteriorating mental health. School counselors may not be equipped to deal with many kids’ problems and concerns. Even if a student has a support system and wants to seek outside treatment through therapy or medication, the costs of such methods can be astronomical.

With all these obstacles in the way, how can we even begin to take care of students’ mental health?

There is not a single solution that will solve all of these problems, but there are steps schools can take to ensure the safety of their students.

Schools can consider hiring a professional therapist who could deal with adolescents on a daily basis. This could eliminate students’ fear of talking to people who may judge or not understand them as well as remove the cost of seeking outside help. Professional therapists are also more equipped to deal with mental illness than school guidance counselors and can determine whether or not the student should seek outside treatment.

Removing the stigma around mental health is another very important task.  Teachers can create open environments in their classrooms and check in with their students. There should be more education on various mental illnesses, including symptoms and treatment. Staff can make sure that each student has at least one adult in the building that he or she can turn to if needed.

Above all, schools must acknowledge and take into account mental health and plan lessons accordingly; this may include a reduced workload for students and less difficult exams. Schools also must remove the culture of pressure and competition within the student body to alleviate the general stress of students.

While these potential solutions aren’t the end of the conversation on mental health among adolescents, I hope schools take into account students’ needs and begin to create a better, healthier environment for everyone.

 

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