The ways the school affects mental health

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Photos by Liliana Sines-Kleist

A heart with inspirational words and a hotline number on it. This is located in the Athens Drive High school hallway.

Mental health has become a familiar issue in schools all around the world. Recently, the Wake County community has focused on mental health and made sure that numerous resources are available and known by students. Yet, some students in Wake County believe that the academic issues surrounding mental health should more often be a topic of discussion.

“I have personally seen a decline in the student body’s mental health, through lack of initiative and motivation to not only be at school but to also complete work. There’s also a decline in goal setting and peer interaction. There seems to be no desire to get to know the other students in their classes or build relationships with their peers,” said Rebekah Marsh, Child Development teacher at Athens Drive High school. 

There is a heightened risk for negative mental health in kids K through twelve. Students in today’s world have now experienced cyber bullying, peer pressure and heavy academic stress. They feel pressured to have elevated performance in school. Although, the students that are preparing for college have a high rate of negative mental health, younger students also feel academic stress and the pressure to do well in school. However, student’s all react differently to these situations, and no student is the same. 

“I actively try to bring mental health up in class and different discussions. I talk about ways to help with the overwhelming and stressful feelings of school and life. There are different topics that we cover in our curriculum, and I’ll try to add different projects and assignments that correlate with mental health. This could allow students to at least start thinking about it, and I try to make sure that students know that my class is a safe space,” said Marsh. 

Many posters can be seen around Athens Drive High school about mental health and where to find resources if a student happens to be struggling. These posters include hotline numbers and inspirational messages. Some students who are struggling in school say that having posters just isn’t enough, and many studies show that social-emotional learning can help with these issues of mental health. A select number of students believe that the issue of mental health should be talked about and not just posted around the school. The student body has addressed these concerns with the adults at Athens and have received little to no feedback. 

“I don’t think that the school does the best job of covering mental health. The health classes do talk about certain topics that fall under the umbrella of mental health. However, I think there needs to be more of an emphasis in those classes where everyone is required to take them, and even in other classes. I think there needs to be a way for us as teachers to implement strategies, or have workshops, or whatever that may be to address these issues,” said Marsh.  

Athens has done an adequate job at addressing the many concerns behind mental health, (Discussions in health classes, giving advice, helping the kids who need rides home, making appointments, connecting them to other resources outside of school, etc.). However, many students believe the conversation can go beyond the actions previously shown. Teachers will look at the signs of depression and other mental health issues as just being lazy, uncooperative, or unattentive. These can be big signs of potential mental health issues and failing to address them with the unique care every student deserves, can lead to other higher at risk circumstances. Although, most of the teachers at Athens will send the counselors and administration emails if they’re concerned about a student. Each child is different and while these students and young adults are still in the early stages of development, teachers and administrators have the chance to make a change and an impact in their lives. Recognize the signs, start the conversation, and help according to the child. Everyone in a child’s life plays a role in how they develop. 

“There are a lot of students here with a lot of unique needs, and as an educational institution I don’t know that any one of the public schools has all of the support services to provide to the students with those unique needs. We do the very best that we can to make sure students are seen. We schedule appointments, we can refer them to outside resources, but there are some other caveats that go along with that. This is due to how students oftentimes don’t have the ability to go to those outside resources because of insurance or other things. When students have situations that happen at school depending on those situations we have provided support and services,” said Taneshia Harris, Athens assistant principal.