Opinion: When it comes to mental health, early awareness, education and interventions are key

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Photo by Miles Hayford

Miles Hayford

Of all the issues that dominate high school students, mental health is definitely one of the most important. Mental health challenges are present in so many high school students. A survey done by the CDC in 2019 said, “1 in every 3 high school students have experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.” If this statistic doesn’t show how important of an issue this is, I don’t know what does.  

Keeping the mental health of our fellow classmates alive and well is a responsibility we all should feel obligated to fulfill. This means bringing awareness to mental illnesses and self care, and continuing to learn about and understand what plays into our mental health.  In order to help our friends and ourselves who have problems with their mental health, we need to grasp the meaning of the term and find outlets that help to heal ourselves and our friends.

Luckily, our own school is aware of this problem and actively tries to solve this problem that is ever present.  Student Assistance Program Director Cathy Kokontis coordinates Naz’s Mental Health Task Force which provides a variety of ways to help people struggling with mental illnesses.  They organize Red Ribbon Week and National Sucidide Prevention Week, they lead multiple affinity groups and have facilitated the Calm Room in N301, among other things.  

The Mental Health Task Force does an amazing job of bringing awareness to mental health and helping Naz students, but there can never be enough done to help this problem.  

I believe there is even more that can be done to further help our fellow classmates with their mental health.  Kokontis shares this belief.  She said, “There is no question that the more education people have about mental health the better.  It reduces stigma and makes it easier for people to ask for help and easier for people whose friends are dealing with mental health issues to know what to do.”  

She says that the teaching of mental health is present in health class, but it could be expanded into more classes. Is that what we need? A class purely helping us understand our mental health so we can help others and ourselves?

I think so. Psychology teacher Victoria Sobol added, “Understanding mental illness is essential in order to truly understand ourselves and others in society.”

It is also important to start this understanding of our mental health, even as teens.  Naz Senior Caitlin McGarry agreed, “Identifying both bad and good mental habits can be very helpful for the future.”  

Nikki Rashes, the Outreach and Volunteer Manager at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shares the belief of becoming aware of mental health at a young age. She said that it is essential to understand mental health at this age to, “increase the chances of early detection, to be able to recognize symptoms and triggers, and to know how to properly respond.”  

Rashes brought up a statIstic from the organization’s website, NAMI.org, which stated, “1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience mental illness each year.”  She was saddened by this statistic but believes that understanding mental illnesses at our age can help prevent us from falling victim to these disorders and “[normalize] mental illness and [reduce] stigma with students.”

Caitlin Bagdan, a Crisis Counselor Supervisor at the global non profit organization Crisis Text Line, agrees on erasing the stigma of mental illnesses. She also believes that understanding our own mental health is the first step. Bagdan believes, “self reflecting is the first step. Identifying what you are feeling is massive…once you are able to find out what those triggers are…you can support your friends and identity triggers and finding those common connections, which is so important.”

She is right. Once we can figure ourselves out and understand our own mental state, we can feel connected to others and be a helping hand to them. She also brought up a great point that is the sole reason for this article.  

She said that we need to inform high schoolers and teenagers about mental health this early in life because of the effects later in life. She said, “ it is crucial to intervene early, especially at that age so they have the ability to set themselves up for the life force. Because any barriers of that at a young age, can impact you when you go to college, in your workforce, it’s just crucial.”

There is clear evidence to this claim.  The National Institute of Mental Health, along with researchers at the University of Maryland and the Catholic University of America conducted a study that studied children at 14-months of age with Behavior Inhibition (BI), a personality type that shows a tendency toward distress and nervousness in new situations. These same kids were checked up on by the researchers at the age of 26 and were found to have “a more reserved personality, fewer romantic relationships in the past 10 years, and lower social functioning with friends and family.”

This study clearly shows how early signs of mental illnesses, such as BI, can affect us later in life, thus highlighting why we need to bring awareness to our mental health early in our lives.  And mental health always starts early, the National Alliance on Mental Health says that “50 percent of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14.”  This is a problem that starts at our age and will only continue unless we bring awareness to the problem to help ourselves and our friends.

If I could leave you with one thing, it would be to stop thinking of mental illnesses as a faraway thing that will never happen to you.  We need to get rid of the stigma that comes with mental illnesses.  We need to bring awareness to our own mental health and begin to understand it, so we can help ourselves and our friends.  

It is essential for us to take care of our own mental health and bring awareness to others’ mental health.  And we, as a school community can do more.  As Naz Sophomore Greta Nelson so simply said,  “Everyone struggles with their mental health, so it’s important for schools to help.”  Let’s listen and go make a difference.