Mental Health: Student Perspective

Mental Health: Student Perspective

The SOS program (and the staff helping teach it) was built to help struggling students- so how exactly do the students themselves perceive and interact with the program and the staff? 

Our students are the center focus of the suicide prevention curreculum and the reason why we have a department for mental health at all. After all, schools and education in general is focused on integrating the younger generations into our society. Schools only exist because of the students. 

Students across the school have an overall positive view of the counselor staff- for the most part. Across all of the students, a general optimism for the staff members exists. They have faith in them, and believe that the grievances they may have could be resolved through them. They try hard, however out of touch the students feel they are.

Some students feel that the staff members are unempathetic- as if they treat the students as a burden. “The one (counselor assigned to the student) I have kinda just maintains a very lack attitude I guess… everything she says with her tone just seems to be very unempathetic and uncaring….” one student said when asked about how they feel about the counselor they were assigned. They also expressed a concern for students that, even under the watchful guidance of the counselors, fall through the cracks of mental illness. 

A lot of the students also expressed a distaste for staff attitude about this particular subject. While it is apparent that a subject like this can weigh down on someone, a responsibility such as taking care of so many students, staff members should be able to acknowledge how their attitude affects the students they assist. Sometimes it’s not just the attitude of staff members that drive students away from their department either- it’s the lack of listening and understanding. One student complained about being forced to deal with classes they had the credits to stop taking- and even requested to stop taking. When asked about their experiences with the staff, they said, “Not good… I’ve been lied to about how many credits I need. I’ve been forced to take classes we talked about me not being required to take. I’ve been lied to about being able to switch from classes I don’t need or want. It was only until my legal guardian stepped in did everything get fixed.”  

The staff and the educators responsible are the people shaping the growing generations. Their attitude reflects back in the young people they teach- it’s just like how a parent’s attitude is apparent in their kids. And with a lackluster attitude, it extends to an overall negative view within the students. All of the students interviewed agreed that a bias on mental illness and in general, mental health, exists within the school. 

This could be added up to a general societal view of the subject. Only in recent years has mental health begun to lose the taboo that had haunted it for so long. Students agreed with the fact that a social stigma exists on mental health, especially at this school. One student even said that other schools in the district call us “Suicide Sentinel,” after our struggles with mental health. 

Other schools within the district also struggle with mental health issues- one of them being Meadow Hill Middle School, being called “Mental Ill” by other schools. Even if this time in a student’s life is hard and emotionally stressful, it shouldn’t go to the lengths that it has been. Staff have been helpful with combating this issue, as every student interviewed agreed, but it isn’t enough. Education of the larger group of students is also crucial in combating mental health. 

Another problem plagues this issue- teenage substance abuse. Substance abuse is closely linked to struggles in mental health, as it most often is used to cope with stress. 50% of teenagers have used misused drugs at least once, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, and 86% of students know someone who abuses substances during the day. Substance abuse needs to be dealt with, and many students have mixed feelings. Some, who take part in using drugs or drinking don’t like how schools handle things because of the harsh consequences, and others who don’t misuse substances feel as if it should be dealt with better. There is a huge pool of disagreement within the general student populous- but one thing is clear. Students agreed that how the staff handle substance abuse only handles the problem temporarily- sending the kid to a juvenile detention center, putting a MIP on their record- doesn’t get the help they need. Students with substance abuse are two-thirds as likely to have at least one mental disorder, according to the Child Mind Institute.

Sometimes students reach out in inadvertent ways- even subconsciously. Self sabotaging behaviors are common in teens with mental disorders. Substance abuse and self harm are self sabotaging behaviors- and the schools and staff need to be able to combat that in order to keep students safe. Self harm, for example, is one of the most obvious symptoms of mental health. Students who struggle with self harming behaviors have a need for assistance that they might not get at home- so they look to the counseling staff. One student said when asked about how staff handle self harm, “Horrible. That’s the worst of it all. They don’t care. I don’t know how else to explain it.” 

Self harm doesn’t always equal suicidal ideation- self harm is an addiction as real as alcoholism. The only difference is that it is the most obvious form of mental struggle within a person. You can’t see a drug problem inside a person until it starts to take its effects, but with self harm like cutting you can immediately see what happened. This can cause a lot of shame for the student struggling, so when they are met with apathy it only makes the problem worse. 

Staff overall need to be able to address a slew of struggles from the students they manage- but what about the program that addresses this in class?

The SOS program, or the suicide prevention curriculum that gets taught in health classes, has the heavy job of educating students on these subjects. At where it stands, students collectively agreed that the curriculum is flawed. The meaning behind the program is great- education about a subject reduces stigma- but the way that education is handled, students don’t agree with it. “I would encourage them to actually hire trained professionals and have them give instructions on how to help friends/get help for yourself… because having an underpaid health teacher doing it isn’t beneficial to anyone,” one student said when asked about the SOS curriculum.

As of now, the same teachers that teach basic anatomy and P.E. exercises teach such complicated subjects like mental health- and students can see the issue with that. While those teachers do great work in educating about other things, something like this deserves more than a small unit in a health class. Having an educated professional in the field to teach the students how to deal with these emotions without negative bias and without substances could be immensely helpful in the long run. Students could learn about how and why they have those feelings- so that even if their home life isn’t ideal, they can learn how to cope a lot easier a lot earlier in their life. 

The intricacies of a student’s brain, plus the constant bombardment from home and school, is difficult to deal with. Schools can’t exactly do much about a student’s life outside of school, but they could make school a better place for students struggling. And, if there is anything the staff should do to improve the mental health of students, they should take the measures to help the people that they need to help.