How does the taboo nature of mental health impact the psychological wellbeing of high school students?



Introduction video

Provocation – let’s get us thinking

On either side are two quizzes. These are just short, 5 answer quizzes intended to get you to prompt your thinking on this subject.

On the tabs above you’ll find the explanations for the answers of the True or False questionnaire.

Prompt: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among high school students (aged 14-18).
Answer: True.
Reasoning: In research conducted by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), the conclusion was drawn that suicide is in fact the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 14-18. The leading cause of death was intentional injuries. In 2018, over 2,000 high-school-aged individuals took their own lives, accounting for approximately one of every three injury-related deaths among this age group.

Prompt: The state with the highest rate of substance use disorder among youth (aged 12-17) is Alaska.
Answer: True.
Reasoning: According to the statistics shown by Mental Health America (MHA), an average of 4.13% of youth in America reported having a substance use disorder. This statistic was composed of 1.87% who had an alcohol use disorder, and 3.07% with illicit drug use disorder. Alaska, with 6.53% of youth reporting a substance use disorder, has the highest rate across the nation. Georgia on the other hand has 3.18% of youth who have reported a substance use disorder, making it have the lowest rates.

Prompt: In the U.S., 48.9% of youth (aged 12-17) with severe depressive episodes received some consistent treatment (7-25+ visits in a year).
Answer: False.
Reasoning: The truth is that an estimated 28.2% of youth with severe depression receive consistent treatment. MHA has reported that the state prevalence of youth with consistent treatment for depression ranges from 13.5% in South Carolina, all the way up to 53.9% in Maryland.

Prompt: In the U.S., teenage men are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than teenage women.
Answer: False.
Reasoning: Though men are more likely to commit suicide, Pew Research Center has shown statistics that 66% of teenage girls experience depression, contrary to 44% for teenage boys.

Prompt: The average high school student today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.
Answer: False.
Reasoning: It is not correct that the average student experiences the same anxiety levels as the average psychiatric patient of the early 1950s, however, the American Psychological Association (APA) has reported that the typical student does experience higher anxiety levels than the average child psychiatric patient of the early 1950s.

On the tabs above you’ll find the explanations for the answers of the Higher or Lower questionnaire.

Prompt: In the U.S., 25% of youth (aged 12-17) report suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the last year.
Answer: Lower.
Reasoning: MHA reported that 13.01% of youth suffered from at least one depressive episode in the past year. The highest rates were found to be in Oregon, where 16.34% reported at least one depressive episode, and the lowest rates were found in the District of Columbia with only 10.49% reporting at least one depressive episode in the last year.

Prompt: 42% of youth (aged 12-17) with major depression did not receive any mental health treatment.
Answer: Higher.
Reasoning: MHA reported that the true number of youth with major depressive episodes yet have received no treatment is roughly 59%. The state prevalence of untreated youth with depression ranges from 39.5% in Rhode Island to 74.3% in North Carolina

Prompt: In the U.S., in 2018, the difference between suicide rates in adult men was 22.8 per 100,000. Were the suicide rates for women higher or lower?
Answer: Lower.
Reasoning: According to Statista, in the U.S. in 2018, the suicide rates for men were at 22.8 per 100,000, whereas for women, they were at 6.2 per 100,000. These rates for both men and women have been increasing since around the year 2000.

Prompt: The prevalence of psychiatric disorders among high school students using GHQ-28 (type of study) is 31.9%.
Answer: Higher.
Reasoning: The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reported that 48% of students had some type of psychiatric disorder. This was seen more in women, where 51% of them had some psychiatric disorder than men, where only 41% of them had some psychiatric disorder. Reportedly, the women also had more severe psychiatric disorders than the men.

Prompt: 61% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosed mental illness.
Answer: Higher.
Reasoning: The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that a staggering 70.4% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosed mental illness.

For Now…

The image above is depicting an engraving of trephination, an operation believed would cure mental disorders.

Those statistics are jarring, and honestly downright concerning. For young adults, who still have a whole life ahead of them, to be presented with such severe mental illnesses at such high rates so soon in life, there has to be a fundamental problem in the way that our society had progressed. As a society we evolve quickly, however, our cultural beliefs, those that stem back centuries upon centuries, those not easily changed and adapted to our times. Throughout history there have been three general theories, or factors, to explain mental illness.

The first one was the idea of the supernatural causing mental illness. The first signs of this type of explanation date back as far back as 6500BC, where prehistoric skulls and cave art identified surgical drilling of holes in one’s skull to treat head injury and epilepsy. They believed that this allowed evil spirits trapped inside of the skull to be released. This path of religion was followed well into the 16th century. Especially between the 11th and 15th centuries, supernatural explanations of mental disorders were fueled by natural disasters and famine which people believed were brought on by the devil. As the 16th century came along, treatments in hospitals and asylums started to be adopted. By the 18th century, there were protests revolving around the treatment of those mentally ill, asking for the conditions to improve. A few examples of what came of that, were they unshackled patients, and moved them to well-lit and well-aired rooms, as well as encouraged them to move around and take part in activities. 

Conversation bubble that’s being erased as soon as it’s drawn, implying the conversation being shut down just as it begins.

Though it is true that someone being possessed by an evil spirit makes for much more ‘interesting’ gossip, it seems reasonable that this wasn’t really a highly conversed subject at the time. Simply put, we have yet to arrive at the point where this is a normalized conversation. There is still heavy stigmatization surrounding mental illness, it becomes an increasingly difficult conversation to have. This stigma also is not consistent. It varies drastically, from culture to culture but even from person to person. Based on our own life experiences, on our religious standings, and even on our genetics, we all have different stigmas about mental illnesses and how to approach them. Simply because of the difficulty of approaching the subject, we have resorted to not speaking of it. It’s become a taboo subject simply because it could not keep up with our evolution of science. 

So now that we have established that, how does it relate to high school students and their wellbeing? The Association for Children’s Mental Health reported that 1 in 5 youth has a diagnosable emotional, behavioral, or mental health disorder. Philip Kendall, director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorder Clinic at Temple University, noted that there has been nearly a 41% increase in anxiety among students since 1985. Long story short, this impacts us all. In one way or another, we are tied to this. Silencing the discussion means that (as reported by Mental Health First Aid) an estimated 70% of teenagers who need treatment don’t receive it. If the conversation is not one that is open and can flow easily, students will not feel that they can request the help they may desperately need.

Looking Forward – let’s do something about it

There are a number of things that we can do to help others struggling with mental health, and many ways to help spread awareness on the subject. Here below are a few posters that depict how one might be able to help and a few links for additional information or details. The sources gathered below are in an attempt to cover a wide array of bases. These include resources to build good mental health habits, but also resources that may provide some insight into how to help someone going through a mental health struggle. There are sources to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, as well as sources at the bottom for you to dig deeper into what the statistics are and what they show. Please take some time to go through them and see what they all have to say, they are all intended to be helpful in some way or another (either to help yourself or to help others around you).

The key thing to remember from these is that you cannot force someone to see a professional, however, you should not behave as a professional yourself unless you are. You should not go around diagnosing people because you read one thing somewhere. If you see someone that you believe is battling with mental health, speak to them. Have a conversation with them. If you are concerned after having the conversation, speak to a trusted adult, speak to a trusted professional, but most of all advise that individual to see a professional.

MLA Citations for links, images, and posters can be found HERE

Please leave feedback and questions below!

> What is something that you had not realized prior to reading my project?
> Would you like to see more being done at your school regarding the subject of mental health? What are they already doing now to address mental health?
> Do you see mental health among high school students in a different light now?



  1. Hi Alicia!! This is a really great project! I took the true or false quiz, your quiz allowed me to learn so much more about mental health than I had previously known. For example, I hadn’t known that the state of Alaska had the highest rate of substance use disorder among youth. Do you know why this is? Does this have any connection with seasonal affective disorder because winter lasts for a long time there. In response to your second question, Your posters caught my attention, specifically the last 2 ones, I think these would be really beneficial up in schools because they are simple steps to improving our mental health and of those around us. Thank you for sharing and teaching me more about this topic. I hope you are able to implement this into your community and make a difference!

    1. Hi Rubi!
      Thanks so much for checking out my page!
      From the research I’ve done, Alaska’s rates are that high because they’re at a transfer point for drug trafficking since they’re separated from the other states. Going on with that, since they’re so far, everything is more expensive (including anything from groceries to drugs). As a result, there is a specific pattern of use unique to Alaskans, including the substitution of more expensive prescription opioids for heroin. I hope that answers your question a little!
      Thanks again for looking at my research 🙂

  2. Hi Alicia! I love your project as it is very insightful, interactive, and visually appealing. I did my project on a similar topic which was around the mental health stigma in Bangladesh so it was nice to see a project centered around the taboo nature of mental health’s impact on high school students. I feel as though many high school students aren’t taken seriously when they discuss mental health and your project is a great way of bringing more attention to this prevalent issue.
    To answer your questions:

    1. One thing I had not realized prior to reading your project would definitely have to be the statistics. It was unfortunate to hear that only an estimated 28.2 of youth with severe depression receive consistent treatment while over 42% of youth (aged 12-17) with major depression did not receive any mental health treatment.

    2. Would you like to see more being done at your school regarding the subject of mental health? What are they already doing now to address mental health?
    Yes, I would like to see more being done at my school regarding the subject of mental health. Where I live mental illness is a taboo topic so it is quite difficult to openly have conversations about it. At my school, we have counselors and a school psychologist available to help us with any issues we may have, however, I feel as though my school could be doing a lot more. For instance, we do in fact have advisory sessions where we discuss things such as depression or suicide but similar to many other schools they fail to actively do things about it or make students feel safer.

    3. Do you see mental health among high school students in a different light now?
    Yes, 100%. I knew that this was a huge problem but after seeing more statistics and reading through your project mental health among high school students should be taken more seriously by others.

    1. Hi Fatmata!
      Thank you so much for taking some time to look at my project. Similarly, my school tries to have some discussion about it, but the grand majority of students seem not to understand just how severe it is. I’m glad that the statistics helped you see this in a new light.
      Thanks again for your comment!

  3. Hi Alicia!

    This is an amazing project. What made it even more fascinating was that you talked about things people would do years and years ago to people that seem to have a kind of mental health condition. I did the two short quizzes you posted and was surprised to see how many I actually got wrong, so to answer your 1st question I did not really know the exact amount/percentages of things, and it was very interesting to find out the actual amount of people dealing with bad mental health.

    1. Hi Deborah!
      Thank you for taking the time to give me a comment!
      I’m really glad you took the time to do the quizzes, I thought that they would be interesting for people to try, just for the sake of seeing generally where people stand. Getting a lot of them wrong is a good sign I suppose, it shows that I could teach something with my project :).
      Thanks again!

  4. Hi Alicia,
    I love your project. What is the most interesting information you learned about when exploring the project?

    1. Hi Caitlin!
      Thanks for your comment! The most interesting information I found while researching was the history of mental illness. Though I had assumed it was likely related to religion and spirits and such, I had not realized just how recently science was actually thrown into the mix. Since this is a topic that people know we need to talk about, but just blatantly don’t, it was really interesting to actually discover why that is.
      Thanks for your question!

  5. Hi Alicia!

    I really loved reading through your project, I also really liked the creativity of the quiz. I was surprised by some of the answers on the quiz and it really helped me reconsider the topic. Before reading your paper I had thought that boys have always had higher rates of depression based off what I’ve heard from those around me, but seeing your quiz it made me realize that I should research some of these topics more thoroughly.

  6. Hi Alicia, your project is really impressive! The interactive nature of your quiz drew me in, and every aspect of your page was engaging and informative. This is such an interesting and important topic, and it should definitely be talked about more in schools and on other educational platforms. The stigmatization of mental health has harmed so many people and communities and will continue to do so unless we make a significant change in the way conversations about the topic flow. Amazing job with this project!

  7. Hi Alicia, I was drawn to your project, because mental health in Japan is something that is under-discussed and seen as shameful or embarrassing to talk about. I have an interest in mental health and well being, so I enjoyed learning more about the mental health and psychological well being of high school students.

    Something I had not realized prior to reading your project was the large number of students who suffer from a mental illness, for example, but don’t get the help or support for it. There may people who can’t receive the help they need, but (especially in Japan) I think the stigma against it play a large role in this. However, I think this has slowly started to change.
    I do wish more would be done at my school. A few years ago, they created a different branch of counselors more focused on personal concerns, worries, etc., and separated college counseling from it. I think it is a step, but there are only two of those counselors, making it possibly very limiting.
    Prior to reading your project, I had a sense of its importance, but not the immense impact it has and the large numbers mental health actually affects. Throughout this past year, I have seen mental health among high school students in a different light, especially because I feel the impact it has on my daily life, as stress builds up.

    My project topic was similar, although it focused on the mental health of Japanese workers, and I researched several ways for stress management and relaxation. I learnt everyone has different ways of dealing with their stress. If you are fine with sharing, what are some ways you release stress? I run and word vomit into my journal, for example.
    I also loved your posters, and I thought the ‘What NOT to say…’ poster was particularly interesting. Awesome job!!

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