In the chaotic nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has become an afterthought to issues regarding the pandemic. Being isolated at home can be especially difficult for those living with mental health issues, as they are forced to overcome the countless hours of each day by trying to keep mentally and physically active.
Before the pandemic started, high schools had made an effort to have multiple mental health professionals on campus in order to provide support for all students to feel safe on campus to truly tackle the problem at hand. However, even with all the work that administrators are doing, what more they can do as the issue continues to surge in importance.
The student officers of the Crescenta Valley High School Mental Health Awareness Club helped answer these questions about the importance of mental health and how high schools can continue to help play a positive role in students’ lives while at home.
According to Riley Helberg, the Co-President of the Mental Health Awareness Club, mental health is such an important issue to address.
“For a long time, it wasn’t addressed at all. Mental health education is so vital now that we have the resources to educate others,” Helberg said.
Lily Neal, the Co-President of the Mental Health Awareness club shared her thoughts on the issue.
“Although the acknowledgment of mental health issues has become much more prevalent in society today, many teens still are not properly educated about the facts,” Neal said.
Helberg explained the role that our generation specifically plays in mental health issues.
“As a generation, now that we have started a national conversation, it is pertinent that we continue to spread resources and positivity to those who need it, in order to keep our peers safe,” Helberg said.
One of the main resources to understanding how to cope with their illness can be seeking help from a therapist or counselor. In fact, Helberg explains that “publicizing the counselors is incredibly important, they are an amazing resource that are often overlooked.”
The reason for many people, including teens for being hesitant to accept help from professionals is the stigma that surrounds reaching out to counselors and therapists.
Sophia Sarieva, the researcher of the Mental Health Awareness club said that many teens are hesitant to seek help from a counselor or therapist.
“I believe that several factors play into this. One of them is that many mental health disorders cause teens to downplay their issues because they think it’s not important enough or they don’t want to be a burden on anyone,” Sarieva said.
She also explained another factor is the stigmas around mental illness.
“For most mental illnesses, there are different levels and intensities of symptoms. However, many people assume that a person with a specific mental disorder must act, think, behave, or speak a certain way, when that’s not true at all,” Sarieva said.
Sarieva said that the way that people with mental illnesses are perceived can be completely contrary to the reality of that individual.
“Someone with a mental illness … can be ignored and told that nothing is wrong and ‘it’s just an excuse to be lazy,'” Sarieva said.
The student officers of the Mental Health Awareness club each gave unique options to help alleviate the stigmas around mental illness.
“The only way to truly de-stigmatize therapy and counseling is to utilize it, and to not be ashamed to share information about its benefits,” Neal said.
Sarieva said that the best way to eliminate mental health stigma is through education, which is what the Mental Health Awareness club aims to do.
“The reason many people think that way about mental health is because it’s what they’ve heard or the only thing they’ve known their entire lives,” Sarieva said. “If no one shows them that their way of thinking is wrong, it will never change.”
Just as the CVHS Mental Health Awareness club emphasizes the importance of changing the stigma around mental health, they also hope to ensure the environment that teens are in is a safe place for them to feel comfortable while at school.
“We cannot undo the past, but we can make strives toward a better, more open present and future,” Helberg said. “Our counselors and our club have been working really hard to bring attention to the faculty the importance of mental health. Our mission might not ever be fulfilled, but we will continue to strive.”
Helberg said that once students return to campus, high schools should acknowledge the toll that the pandemic and isolation has taken on people.
“Schools should be reassuring their students not to stress about school and to focus on keeping themselves and others safe by staying at home, and teachers should encourage students to just keep trying their best during these hard times,” Neal said.
Through these difficult times, we must always remember to help those around us and to be sympathetic to all, as we are all experiencing these unprecedented and frightening times together.