How Can We Help Our Struggling Students?
I live in the heart of Silicon Valley- Los Altos to be specific. I go to school in one of the richest zip codes- Atherton. On my drive to school, I pass Stanford University, one of the most selective colleges, Google and Facebook headquarters, and many other large, multi million dollar businesses. I say this to give you context for what I hope to demystify.
As you can see by my title, for my Catalyst Conference project, I chose to tackle the issue of depression, suicide and stress in Silicon Valley. I find myself constantly shocked with the statistics on this page, but even more shocked with anecdotal stories of students I have come into contact with. In the mere three years I have been in high school, I have personally known two students who live within a five mile radius of me who have taken their own lives due to the stress and pressure of being a student in Silicon Valley.
As a result of the toxic stressful environment that Silicon Valley has fostered, students have resorted to taking their own lives as a mean for escaping the stress and pressure of school and college that surrounds us. These students unfortunately felt as though there was no other option to avoid the stress and pressure.
So why should we care? First of all (and most importantly), because these students had friends and families who were deeply affected by losing them. But also, we should care about the root of the problem. Not only did multiple students in Silicon Valley lose their lives, they took their own lives because of a problem society is failing to address. The problem of finding the best way we can help our struggling students.
As these statistics show, students in Silicon Valley have an extremely high rate of depression related behavior, much higher than the national average. Along with this one fourth of the people live who live in Silicon Valley suffer from a Mental Illness problem. And a large majority of these people are students- whether it be high school or college.
So What Can We Do?
How can schools help their students:
In order for schools to combat this problem, there needs to be help at the root of the problem. Students are feeling overworked and stressed due to the amount of work being assigned. Now I am not suggesting that teachers do not give their students homework or tests, but just be more accommodating. If a student was up all night upset about something that happened in their family, they are not going to do as well as they potentially could on a test for example. In this situation, I would urge teachers to give the student some form of extension, whether it is pushing the test back a day or a few days- anything will be helpful in the long run.
Moreover, teachers have the optimal position for observing their students. There is a large gap between administration and students. In order for the administration to know what is happening with students, teachers must observe and understand how their students are feeling and support them in times of need and when they are excited. Forming strong connections with students can be extremely valuable if executed correctly.
In the event of a student suicide, the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement (NCSCB) suggests multiple different things for schools to do in order to best support their students, including:
- Listen: Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues from students that show stress and make yourself available to talk.
- Protect: Answer questions honestly and communicate what is being done to keep students safe.
- Connect: Keep communication open with other adults, find resources that can offer support and help restore student activities that encourage interaction with friends.
- Model: Be aware of your own reactions to crises and demonstrate how to cope in a healthy way.
- Teach: Help students identify positive coping mechanisms and celebrate small achievements as they begin to get through each day successfully.
Hopefully no school will ever have to deal with this, but in the event it is necessary, there needs to be correct steps taken in order to best support students in such a delicate circumstance.
How can other students help peers?
If a student sees another student that they do not know so well struggling with mental illness or anything of that sort, it is important to take action. Tell a teacher or trusted adult at the school who can direct them to the best help. By saying nothing you are adding onto the problem.
How can friends help?
And finally, if your friend is struggling, many students feel as though this is the hardest situation to help in. You don’t want to overstep in your friendship but you also hate seeing them in that state of mind. To best understand what friends can do to help, Bill Bernat, a widely known advocate for those struggling with mental health, addresses how to help friends in this TED talk:
Make a Change!
Print out this poster with inspirational messages, cut them into four separate “post it’s” put them up around your school. Take a photo of them on lockers at your school or on bulletin boards. These inspirational messages will be good reminders to everyone on campus, regardless if you live in Silicon Valley.
Along with posting these inspirational messages, be sure to practice empathy. There is more harm than benefit when there are jokes about mental health or anything like that. Saying things like “I am literally going to kill myself” is ruining the progress we are trying to create. So, when hearing about mental illness, listen, respond and be thoughtful in doing so. Only then will we be able to catalyze change.
Rosin, Hanna. “The Silicon Valley Suicides.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 Nov. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/12/the-silicon-valley-suicides/413140/.
Noguchi, Sharon. “Stress Crisis: How Bay Area Schools Struggle to Keep Kids Safe.” The Mercury News, The Mercury News, 12 Aug. 2016, www.mercurynews.com/2016/04/09/stress-crisis-how-bay-area-schools-struggle-to-keep-kids-safe/.
Segall, Laurie. “How Silicon Valley Is Dealing with Mental Illness.” CNN Business, Cable News Network, 10 Feb. 2016, money.cnn.com/2016/02/10/technology/silicon-valley-depression-austen-heinz/index.html.
Forestieri, Kevin G. “In Silicon Valley, Getting to the Bottom of Gaps in Mental Health Care for Teens.” Center for Health Journalism, USC Annenberg, 13 Mar. 2018, www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/2018/03/07/silicon-valley-getting-bottom-gaps-mental-health-care-teens. Accessed 8 Apr. 2019.
O’Day, Colleen. “How Schools Can Help Students Respond to Suicide.” National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, 21 May 2018, www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/May-2018/How-Schools-Can-Help-Students-Respond-to-Suicide. Accessed 11 Apr. 2019.
Simmons, Richard. “The Silicon Valley Suicides.” The Center, Center for Executive Leadership, 17 Mar. 2017, thecenterbham.org/2017/03/17/the-silicon-valley-suicides/. Accessed 14 Apr. 2019.