Students advocate for better mental health resources in school

Skylar Saragusa, Reporter

Many high school students struggle with some sort of mental illness, as they are faced with the constant pressure to “succeed” in school and life. This includes students in the Olathe School District. With the hybrid model, many students are able to go to school for half the day, which allows them to be surrounded by the support from their friends and staff members. However, many students feel as though they are not getting the help or support they need.

Abigail Dearing, senior, along with other students, feel as though the high schools could do more to advocate and educate students and staff on mental illnesses.

“Sure we have the suicide and depression talk every year but there are so many other forms of mental health and mental disabilities that are not discussed,” Dearing said.

While a small percentage of mental illnesses are talked about, it seems as though the conversation is brief and lacking details. Then, students move on to their assignments, and mental health seems to hardly be talked about again. While the school curriculum is important, with mental illnesses being so wide spread, more focus should be placed on talking about them. 

Additionally, it’s important that they are talked about in the right way. Emily Schwindt, senior, expressed her concerns on the single mental health advisory lesson lectured every year, talking specifically about anxiety and depression.

“One major problem I’ve noticed is that when we do have lessons, they revolve around coping mechanisms and ways to work around mental illness,” Schwindt said. “ If the administration really worked to reduce the main causes of stress and mental illness; such as huge homework loads, group projects, test anxiety and finals, and confusion in class, our mental health would be a lot more manageable.” 

Many students felt extremely overwhelmed after the hybrid model was put in place. They have felt as though their stress and anxiety levels have risen as work loads and homework seemed to have doubled. While students are only going half days, the amount of homework placed on these scholars seems to leave them feeling exhausted.

“I barely sleep some nights because teachers are giving us way too much homework to do in one night,” said Dearing. 

While teachers have no control over the schedule or curriculum they must follow under this schedule, they should still support students as opposed to lecturing them about getting their assignments turned in or telling them they will fail if any of them aren’t turned in. While teachers are struggling through these tough times as well, many students are facing dangerous levels of stress and anxiety over these assignments with little support or encouragement. 

Another thing the high schools do for mental health is send out a Panorama survey, which students take once a year. This survey asks a variety of questions in attempts to gauge how students are feeling emotionally, and whether or not they feel supported by staff and peers. However, many students question whether or not these surveys are taken seriously. Nina Tasic, senior, shared her thoughts on this survey.

“I feel like some students take the survey seriously and genuinely want to help the adults in our district do better for us,” Tasic said. “Moreover, I feel like some students take the survey seriously because it may be one of the only times they are comfortable talking about how they are feeling or things they are going through. Otherwise, I think people do not really care about it because they may not be struggling with any of the problems mentioned in the survey, or they just do not care because mental health is not important to them.”

Regardless of whether or not students struggle with a mental illness, they should be able to understand what they are and how they affect people. After all, this is a big reason why people are judged for having a mental illness, and why those struggling don’t speak up.

Others question whether or not staff even look at these surveys.

“My teachers don’t even look at my 504 learning plan/accommodations which are vital to my learning,” Dearing said. “I highly doubt many teachers will look at a server telling me I’m depressed or anxious if they don’t care enough to check something that will affect my learning and performance in class.”

Additionally, many students may not answer truthfully, in fear of the wrong person looking at these surveys, as many seem to lack trust in the staff.

“If given the choice to talk to my counselor about my mental health, I would decline. I don’t trust my teachers or counselors to keep the conversations we have private,” Dearing said.

Even those who have resources they can use and trust, feel as though they are not easily accessible. 

“I’ve tried to speak with my counselor during lunch in past years, but every time I go in, I end up sitting in the waiting area for long periods of time and my actual time with the counselor feels very rushed and limited,” Schwindt said. “ I also know we have a school psychologist and a social worker, but I’ve never been told their names or how to even reach them, let alone set up an appointment.”

Perhaps this is one of the causes for this lack of trust. A lot of students never get the chance to get to know these counselors, let alone talk to them. While there are other people to talk to, such as the school psychologists, many students don’t even know how to reach them, or are too afraid to. While there is a website telling parents how to reach these people, it’s clear that students need more, and there is no excuse for them not to. The Olathe School District provides a lot of resources for educational purposes, making them easily accessible. While this is important, mental health should be made a priority. Not every student wants to become a scientist or a mathematician. Yet, these processes are forced to be taught by law. Meanwhile, almost every single student struggles with some form of a mental illness, and many don’t even understand what a mental illness is, as these lessons are not prioritized or required.

Additionally, there are a variety of mental illnesses that students face that go unheard of inside the school building.

“I think that not understanding that there are a multitude of mental illnesses (and the degrees at which they are experienced) we can all experience, even as students, drives wedges between us’” said Tasic. “Not being able to understand each other, in this regard, can be divisive and lead to the judgment someone dealing with a mental illness is afraid of being met with when coming forward with their problems.” 

This leaves many students feeling alone, without knowing how to cope with their feelings. While teachers and staff can’t cure mental illnesses, nor should they be expected to, it’s important for them to show their students that they care. If every student had just one adult they felt they could trust, the effects of these mental illnesses could be lessened by a lot. Everybody deserves to feel as though they have someone by their side that isn’t just a friend or a parent. We must end the stigma surrounding mental health by educating and showing students and staff that they are not alone, and that they have someone to talk to. Students should be able to trust their teachers and be shown that what they are going through is both understood and normal.

 “I want our teachers to live a day as a student and see how hard it is and how much stress and work goes through every single day,” Dearing said. “I personally know I have never had a teacher ask me how I am feeling, even on days where I (a student who is usually very engaged and loves to participate) can hardly even keep my eyes open or think straight. If a teacher can’t tell if a kid is not acting the same and doesn’t want to participate, that’s not a good sign.”