It starts with a test Tuesday. Then add practice after school. Now homework. Drama. College applications. On a daily basis, teens face countless and sometimes unpredictable stressors. Juggling everything on one’s plate can become taxing and cause anxiety to spiral out of control, leaving students feeling helpless and alone. Mental health and managing it is more important than ever for teens. They need accessible resources for managing their mental health, especially at the school where they spend so much of their time.
East’s Student Services does provide useful and accessible resources for students struggling with their mental health. It seems the hardest part for students is asking for help.
A Pew Research Center study found that 70% of teens say anxiety and depression is a “major problem” among their peers, with an additional 26% acknowledging anxiety and depression as a “minor problem” among peers. And even more concerning, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America concluded only 36.9% of those suffering from an anxiety disorder are being treated, despite the fact that anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Considering this, there is no excuse for East not to be putting its best foot forward in helping each student feel they do not have to fight mental struggles alone.
Thankfully, East is working hard to give every student resources to be able to overcome anxiety and stress. At East, each student has a counselor assigned to him or her based on last name. The counselor is concerned mainly on the student’s academic life and future, but is also trained in and able to discuss social and emotional health. Each student also has a social worker and psychologist assigned based on last name, who specializes in helping students manage social and emotional stressors in their lives. At any given time of the day, according to guidance counselor Ryan Duffy, at least one of those assigned staff members will be present and available to students walking into Student Services needing someone to talk to or seeking advice.
I was able to see the availability of the Students Services staff last year first-hand. At a point of being overwhelmed by social and emotional stressors I could not handle, I stopped into Student Services during my lunch hour, signed in on the Google Form and saw my counselor within minutes. There was no drawn out process of “Are you sure it can’t wait?” or having to receive a pass in a later class and worry about the questioning in my peers’ eyes as I made my way down to Student Services. My privacy was respected. I was helped.
Students are valued at East, and their mental health is evidently the top priority of Student Services staff. While it can seem easy to feel alone amidst the stress, cliques, and pressures of high school, Student Services keeps its doors open. The overshadowing issue is not really the accessibility of resources, but how (un)comfortable students are asking for help in managing their mental health.
Walking into Student Services has become too closely associated with the stigma surrounding discussing mental health and seeking out treatment. Fortunately, there is no need for students to feel judged or as if they’re being stared at when they step foot in Student Services. Because of all the services available, a student could be entering the office to turn in a community service hours sheet, seek out help with filling out the FAFSA, or make an appointment regarding a schedule change. It will not be obvious to bystanders what a given student is seeking within Student Services.
Once inside the office, students’ privacy is respected. They will be asked to sign in and fill out a Google Form on why they are in Student Services that day and who they would like to see. This is the extent of what you will have to share in the front area of the office, and it does not even have to be shared out loud.
If walking in unannounced is too unnerving, the office’s staff members are also easily accessible by email. From there, the student and staff member can decide whether face-to-face meetings or other forms of follow-up are necessary. Though it is not ideal to be discussing and solving issues related to mental health through a screen, sending an email at least starts the conversation. And starting the conversation can be the difference between going through the day numb to the pain or breaking through the hurt that’s been bottled up for too long.
East has successfully implemented many accessible resources for students in respect to having a support system to discuss issues with confidentiality. The new hurdle to clear is starting these very discussions. Limiting the stigma, anxiety and unease surrounding the act of approaching a counselor or psychologist will better benefit all of East’s students.
Mental health is clearly a priority at East. Students just need to understand how available their resources are. Students just need to understand that they don’t have to fight the battle alone.
Elizabeth Dyer is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl