Opinion: High Schoolers Must Do More For Their Mental Health

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Opinion: High Schoolers Must Do More For Their Mental Health

Felix Cooper, Opinion Editor

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Life struggles, low moods and painful experiences are a staple of the teenage existence. These often go hand in hand with high school–and just as often, high school is the cause. There’s no denying that these are tumultuous times, but there is often more to it than hormones and a ‘kids these days’ mentality: mental illness could be the culprit.

This specific type of health concern is whispered about in school hallways, in classrooms when teachers aren’t looking, in the bathrooms; students can’t help but treat their friends’ admittance of this struggle as gossip when most don’t understand it. Despite the school having posters in each hall on what to do if students need support, few suffering students feel comfortable using those resources.

In a survey sent to the GCHS student body, 56 percent of 150 respondents said they did not know if they would feel comfortable talking to school counselors about their mental health. As to why, anonymous students’ reasoning ranged from confidentiality worries to simply not knowing who was there for them.

 “I didn’t know some of these counselors existed,” one response said. 

“I don’t think the counselors would keep my issues confidential,” said another. 

In the U.S. alone, the rate of mental health issues in teens is on the rise. According to Mental Health America, more than 12 percent of American youth experienced Major Depressive Episodes (MDEs) in 2018, which is a temporary period where someone experiences symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). MDE gives victims only a sliver of the long-term pain of clinical depression which can persist for months or years. 

Depression, bipolar disorders and anxiety disorders are not only stigmatized but they are increasingly common afflictions. Thirty percent of Iowa teens felt the long-term sadness, hopelessness and fatigue that depression brings. Mental illnesses have a tendency to rob people of activities they once enjoyed, to make them feel like no one cares about them or that life doesn’t matter until it becomes so unbearable that the person might end his or her own life.

Mental illness is often dubbed the silent killer, even in our home state of Iowa. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Des Moines Register, one person commits suicide every 20 hours in Iowa; the second leading cause of death in Iowans aged 15-34 years old is suicide. In Iowa, 433 people committed suicide in 2017. 

Suicide is the one death that can always be prevented. There are systems, supports, resources and people who notice when someone is struggling, but those who can reach out often do not. Stigma makes those with depression and suicidal thoughts seem like they are strange or abnormal. The stigma around mental illness often isolates the sufferers even more, cutting off access to peers and support socially. Part of the stigma comes from the idea that those who are suicidal want to die to escape. Some people think that those who consider or have committed suicide are selfish for feeling like their families and friends don’t really care about them. Some think that suicidal thoughts among the depressed are extremely rare.

The truth is that all victims of mental illness have considered suicide at least once. There are students in our school who have the thought every single day, on both their worst days and their best days. With Connections failing to make real impacts on students, students in our school are significantly disconnected when it comes to their peers’ emotions. In the face of that, GCHS students need to help their peers. But how? 

The simplest way is to reach out. Tell your friends that you are there for them if they are struggling. Ask your friends if there is anything you can do to help and make them feel better. Students, you’ll be surprised to see how easy it is to keep your friends alive: 

Just talk to them.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the school counselors by email: Kathleen Loeffelbein  [email protected], Michelle Fluckey [email protected], or Jedd Taylor [email protected]. For anonymous support, you can call the following help lines which are confidential and open 24/7 to assist callers- National Suicide Prevention LifelineCall or text 800-273-TALK (8255) for free; Your Iowa Life — call 855-581-8111 or text 855-895-8398 for free.