According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a fifth of adolescents suffer from a mental illness, 11 percent of kids have a mood disorder, eight percent of children and adolescents have an anxiety disorder, and suicide is the third most common cause of death among youth ages 10 to 24.
While American schools claim to uphold policies and practices conducive to the well-being of their students, they often seem to forget the incredibly damaging consequences of untreated mental illness. During adolescence, a period marked by self discovery and the formation of a personal identity, teenagers are at a high risk of experiencing feelings of alienation, confusion, and isolation, and thus face an even higher risk of mental illness.
In order to address this often forgotten concern, the American education system needs to establish clear support, resources, and education for their students in order to stop debilitating mental illness from harming teens.
Recently, a psychiatrist visited students at my school to discuss the importance of sleep for mental and physical health. She concluded her seminar by telling us that if we had any further questions or concerns, we could speak to our school psychologist.
First, silence. Then, an eruption of chatter and disbelief filled the room as many students in the room gasped in shock.
“We have a school psychologist?!” Like the rest of my peers, I had no idea that there was access to mental health resources right inside my school campus.
Despite the mental health epidemic that faces American youth today, most teens are not given a thorough knowledge of the resources available to them. In consideration of the fact that many have felt isolated, depressed, or had thoughts of suicide, improving mental health care education and the accessibility of resources is an essential need in this nation’s schools.
Without such support, students are often forced to live in environments where they feel too fearful of the stigmas of mental illness to seek help from their friends and teachers.
Junior John Wargowski was diagnosed with clinical depression when he was in the seventh grade. While he was able to find help after his counselor recommend he speak to his parents about his feelings, this support came after an entire year of self-doubt and confusion.
“I was way too scared to tell my friends about how I was feeling, let alone try to get my parents to find help for me. That was a really, really difficult year,” Wargowski said.
Efforts to combat a lack of clear support systems in high schools are under way, though. Individuals such as school social worker Barbara Ackermann hope that students seek support and information regarding mental illness through her services and those of any other professionals available on school campuses.
“Finding out who you are, what you believe in, what you want to stand for, that’s common during the high school years, and if you’re an outlier in some way on the normal curve that’s a dangerous place to be,” Ackermann said.
Any students in need of emotional advice can call the National Suicide Hotline at (800)273-8255, or talk to trusted teachers, parents, and other school staff to seek support in times of need.