Why does mental health in high school matter so much?
Mental health is a priority in schools because mental health symptoms can become potential barriers to students’ learning. Without the ability to focus on learning, students aren’t able to absorb information as well, making it a lot harder for them to learn.
Okay, so mental health in school matters, what’s the big deal?
The problem is, there is a lack of funding and tools in schools for them to be able to handle many of these mental health issues. School is the easiest, and for many the safest, place for kids to go to get help. They need to have the services, skills and resources to identify, refer and if necessary, to intervene early in mental health issues. According to NPR, “Up to one in five kids living in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in a given year” (2). With the right preventative measures, schools across the country could help these kids get the help they need, which many are currently not getting.
Not only are schools not able to help many students with their mental health issues, school causes these issues for many students.
How do we solve these problems?
Solving the problems is where the problem is. Schools don’t have enough money or resources to hire more guidance counselors, leaving students stuck. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1, but the national average in the U.S. is 491:1 with some states reaching 822:1 or 941:1. The counselors also have to devote time to college counseling, leaving even less time to focus on mental health. The students who do have even the smallest bit of access to these counselors are lucky.
An approach from Game Theory
Disclaimer: This is an extreme simplification of this matter as there are infinite strategies and outcomes because not every school is the same. This is a very basic demonstration of how game theory could be used to figure out the best course of action for both the students and the school administration.
The Players & Their Outcomes
- Better/worse mental health
- Mental health stays about the same
- Lose money
- Better/worse school environment
- Nothing changes
The Game Tree
The Solution (according to game theory)
In this game tree, the solution would be for the administration to change class curriculum and make it easier so that the students would be less stressed, and their overall mental health would improve. As I said earlier, this isn’t a black and white issue, many of the solutions lie within the grey space. The solution isn’t as simple as changing the curriculum, there still lies the issue of the students who really need help from a counselor and cannot get it.
My Response: What can we do?
- Learn to recognize the symptoms of mental illness
- Changes in mood/emotions or behavior
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained weight loss or changes in appetite.
- Physical symptoms such as frequent headaches or stomachaches.
- Self-injury or self-harm, such as cutting or burning and attempted suicide.
- Substance abuse, using or abusing drugs and alcohol.
- If you recognize these symptoms in a friend or sibling and they are unable to see a counselor in school, ask them if they are doing okay or if they want any help
- If you recognize these symptoms in yourself and you don’t have access to a counselor, talk to a therapist, online or in person
- Become a mental health advocate and help speak out about these issues
- The more exposure mental health issues in school get, the more likely schools can get more funding to help fix it
And most importantly, look after your own mental health. Everything starts with you taking care of yourself!
I would love to find out if and how schools you have connections to are dealing with the mental health crisis. Please let me know in the comments below! If you are comfortable with it, please also share your experience with mental health in school and how you deal/dealt with it. Any other ideas you have for advocating mental health in the education system or in general can be commented as well!
More videos to watch
- The fight against teen suicide begins in the classroom | Brittni Darras | TEDxMileHigh
- Why you should take a break: Prioritizing mental health in schools | Hailey Hardcastle | TEDxSalem