Students are Fighting Mental Health Challenges Every Day. Who’s Going to Help?
Content Warning: This piece discusses data on suicide.
Students are fighting mental health challenges every day when they come to school, and they’re stuck. Most of these students have to go to school feeling like they don’t have a safe place to talk to someone. They’re not able to talk to anyone, because they feel unsafe or trapped. And for many students who’ve found ways to open up or speak with someone, like myself, it takes them a while to warm up and talk to someone about how they felt.
For the group of high school students, I spoke with about mental health in schools, the challenges they observed began in middle school. A lot of things start then that can cause someone to suffer from mental health issues, including bullying. Trouble completing school work can disappoint some teachers and parents—and when those adults don’t ask why or let them explain students can start feeling trapped.
From personal experiences, speaking with students, and looking at research, it’s clear to me that students aren’t ok. Just ask them. We need to stop overlooking the problem and step up.
What does the data tell us about student mental health?
Beyond conversations with these students, new research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows how covid affected young people’s mental health. The U.S. Surgeon General called it an “urgent public health crisis” with nearly half of students during the pandemic saying their mental health was bad. The rates of suicide, self-harm, anxiety, and depression are up for teens—a trend that started before the pandemic, according to Mental Health America’s (MHA) 2021 report. That statistic is particularly concerning when the MHA rankings showed that 55% of Minnesota youth with “major depression”—32,000 teens—did not have access to mental healthcare in 2020.
But I also found more critical information about how to help young Minnesotans of color in crisis and with rising suicide rates. “Suicide prevention strategies have yet to comprehensively target structural racism as a mechanism that produces disparities in prevention and intervention pathways,” according to a study published in May in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Addressing how structural racism impacts youth suicide prevention is critical, the authors write, in three key settings where youth suicide prevention occurs: mental health services, schools, and the interface between crisis care and law enforcement.
The example of inconsistency in confinement in Minnesota stood out to me. Seeing how students are kept in a room for days or months—so they are basically on lockdown for wanting to hurt themselves—is something that everyone should know about when we think about how to save our children.
What is happening now and what do students need?
From the information I got from students on mental health and what’s happening now, most of the responses were similar: People need to check up on each other and make sure they know they can come to talk to them about anything. Students need to know that it’s okay not to be okay.
Mental health today doesn’t seem like it’s as important because there’s a lot of other stuff happening. People just avoid it, but I feel like a lot of youth who are experiencing it are suffering a lot more now. And research says so too.
What needs to be done to make a change?
A lot needs to be changed. Kids need to know there’s going to be someone by their side when they’re struggling with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. They need someone to let them know they are not alone in this world and that they are loved instead of ignoring them.
I know there are parents out there thinking their children don’t have mental health challenges, that their behavior is all for attention—but that’s what can trigger your children’s biggest struggles, and it can get worse. Parents and adults can’t keep on ignoring it and telling students that there’s no reason for their behavior when they “have the world, every opportunity, or no excuse.” These children don’t need to be hearing that. We need to stand by their side.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
EdAllies seeks to elevate diverse voices and foster a candid dialogue about education. While we provide our blog as a platform for EdVoices and other guest contributors, the views and opinions they express are solely their own. Click here to learn more about becoming an EdVoices contributor.