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Standing On the Ledge: VSN Mental Health from a Student Perspective

By Eva Grace Martinez

Volume 1 Issue 6

March 18, 2021

Standing On the Ledge: VSN Mental Health from a Student Perspective

Image provided by Ohio Department of Education

When I first entered South Side High school to take my ACT in December, I found myself bombarded with posters and signs advertising their mental health resources. I saw the faces, names, and locations of guidance staff, school psychologists, and various other student support services professionals, just by walking in the front door.  My first thought was: Something must have happened here. Sadly, I was right. A quick google search showed two students had committed suicide in 2019. I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the students who died.

It is not uncommon for schools and other institutions to respond to mental health issues after a crisis. Studies show that teen suicide rates are on the rise and have more than doubled since 2007.[1] The global pandemic has amplified this particular issue. Students are hurting for so many different reasons.

Here is my story:

The lowest point I remember came at the beginning of my sophomore year. I dangerously teetered on the edge of an emotional cliff I felt would have been impossible to climb back up. I was sad, anxious and depressed. Despite the helpful efforts of my teachers, my grades were falling lower than they ever had. I was sleeping erratically, either 2 or 12 hours a night. I could not eat; I lost 8 pounds from skipping meals. By November, I was too focused on seeing the next morning to care about whatever work I had been assigned the night before. I sat there, cold, tired, and apathetic to it all, and worse, I refused to ask for help. My talkative and happy demeanor created an easy mask for the problems I was facing. Every potentially concerning thing I said was passed off as “just a joke.”

Despite how difficult it is for students to talk about their emotions and problems, I have supportive parents to whom I could turn for help, and I was ultimately able to receive help outside of school. I began treatment, and I can happily say, I am doing better than ever.

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of students across the country is well-documented, but difficult to see happening to young people all around us – some who are on our screens only during the school day. Many students have spoken out to their friends or in extra-curricular club settings, saying the pandemic has “sent their mental health down the drain,” or otherwise negatively impacted their well-being. Students around me are voicing deep feelings of loneliness, even writing to the advice column in the North Star to ask about making friends virtually. As a school community, we have to check in frequently with each other because we are not okay.

There are many steps a school can take to publicize and destigmatize mental health services at school. Signs around the school communicating facts about how common mental health challenges are can help to take away the shame that I and others feel when they experience symptoms; studies on a national scale show small steps like signage actually work.[2] Small changes or additions can actually have a significant impact.

What We Can Do:

Some examples of dispensing information widely might include:

  • Posts on teams with the names and locations of student support services personnel to take the place of in-person signage for the many students who are virtual or hybrid right now.

  • Well-documented and well-known protocols outlining the steps students, parents, and teachers can take to get access to school resources in a transparent, simple and confidential way.

  • Increase in overall mental health awareness by holding more, and well-advertised, events to provide support. The Student Wellness Forum over the weekend of March 6th was a good start, and the second in that series is March 13th.

  • We also can introduce a “SAFE” club. “SAFE” stands for Suicide Awareness and a Friendly Environment, this club may also focus on mental health in general, instead of just specifically suicide prevention. This is similar to what was done by students at Southside after both suicides had taken place. [3]

  • A focus on Mental Health Awareness Month this May.

  • We could hold a hallway decoration competition similar to Red Ribbon Week (THIS WEEK!) for drug awareness.

  • We could ask each club to bring up Mental Health as a meeting topic during a meeting in May.

For my part, as a leader in The Alliance club here at North, I’ve been engaging with the club’s members in discussions which helped me construct this article, and I feel like if we all work together as a school, every small step we take can add up to a big positive impact on students.

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