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Mental health of high school students precarious, but help is available

By: Kenya Jones



Even a single statistic illustrating the mental health crisis among high school-age Americans can be stunning: Nearly 60% of youth with major depression do not receive mental health care, according to Mental Health America.


There are many more statistics like that:

  • Nationally, only 28% of youth with severe depression receive some consistent treatment for mental health.  

  • About 1.2 million young people covered by private insurance  have no coverage for mental health or any emotional difficulties.


Ask around at Bard High School Early College in Washington D.C and you’ll hear comments that illustrate the mental health landscape behind those numbers. 


Students say they don’t think that there is enough attention being paid to a wide range of stressors affecting their ability to stay focused and learn – from relationships, family trauma, friendships, abuse, violence, poverty, and social media. 


Some research asserts that the last category listed – social media –  may play an outsized role in affecting the mental health of youth in America.


Multiple studies have discovered a strong link between the effects of social media on mental health, including loneliness, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression, and self harm, according to Helpguide.org, an independent nonprofit mental health site. 


And some students at Bard DC say the stress, anxiety and depression worsened by the school environment itself takes a toll on their mental health. And home isn’t much better.


Keniya Johnson, a 12th grade student at Bard DC, said her home environment is a trigger for her mental health. 


“My house can get really depressing for me,” she said.  “It causes me to isolate  myself in my room with my thoughts that will lead  me [to become] emotionally overwhelmed.” 


Other students said that they don’t believe that their parents take their mental illness seriously enough. Some said they even try to escape from home because it can be so depressing. 

 

Some Bard students said when they feel this way they don’t feel as if they have an outlet for getting out and may fall into a deeper level of depression and sense of worthlessness.


But there is help at Bard, officials said, while acknowledging the vastly different world that high school students navigate today compared to generations before them.


Sophia Thomas, a mental health specialist at Bard, sees more options for todays’ high school students.


“I think there are generational gaps in how people perceive mental health,” she said. “There are many more support systems in today’s world than back then.”


Thomas said that the challenge schools face is “how information regarding mental health is communicated,”  adding that mental health providers are the best point of contact to share information about school mental health services.


 “Not only is it essential for mental health providers to be the source of messages provided regarding mental health, it is also important to provide reminders to students regarding mental health services,” she said. “It is critical that students know we are here to help.We have to remind people that we are here to help and it needs to be more consistent and respected.”


Donna Desormeaux, a journalism teacher and special education case manager at Bard DC, said she refers students in crisis to the school’s social workers or psychologist.


“As a teacher, I try to let students who feel stressed or are having mental issues just talk,” Desormaux said. “I show them that there are people who care about them. I care. Students can always talk to me. I understand some of the issues that they may be suffering from.”


Thomas agreed, saying that when a student who seems sad or depressed comes to her, she’ll first ask “how they’re doing and explain to them the confidentiality around mental health and ask them what I can do to help.” 

 

MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES for students/youth: Students who feel a need to speak with someone or are having a mental health crisis can talk with school counselors, a parent/guardian or other trusted adult, or can call or text 988- the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.



Kenya Jones is a senior at Bard High School Early College in Washington, DC. She worked on this article with Youthcast Media Group, which has a partnership with Bard’s journalism class. 




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