TEENAGE MENTAL HEALTH: Crisis in Schools
January 23, 2020 | PBAT MAGAZINE
By Kevin Benitez, Anyely Marroquin, Ashrafe Nudia & Zahid Pallab
“Sometimes I think, nobody cares so much about this,” said an eighteen years old girl who is a senior at Flushing International High School. She is a recent immigrant in U.S. from a country in Europe. She talks about the days she have gone through depression and felt that nobody really cares much if a teen or youth is going through depression or a bad mental phase. They just ignore this issue as if it doesn’t matter.
Recently, a 16 year old student from a High School in California who seemed to be happy and successful committed suicide because of too much pressure. He left a suicide note saying, “So much pressure is placed on the students to do well that I couldn't do it anymore." He couldn’t take it anymore because the pressure was too much in his competitive high school, where his parents and teachers expect top performance and to go to a good college.
Unfortunately, this is not the only case of teen depression and suicide. In recent years, the rate of teen suicide have increased by 56%. Not only teen suicide rate, but teen depression rate have also increased over time. Depression is the most widely reported disorder, with over a quarter of adolescents affected. Teenage depression is a serious problem that has been ignored for too long, and the problem is getting worse.
After conducting a survey of FIHS Seniors about mental health with 45 respondents, it was found that 18% of the respondents felt depressed over the last two weeks most or the days and/or almost everyday even though over 30% responded having symptoms of depression. It shows that many of the students who feel depressed or go through depression don’t even know what they are going through. They are clueless about their mental health. Sadly, 17.8% of the respondents are suicidal who think they would be better off dead. Some of them might even considered comitting suicide or attemted suicide. 15.5% senior students responded that they thought of harming themselves in someway over the last two weeks and some of them are the ones who are suicidal. “Usually they harm themselves to feel the pain, to feel that they exist or to seek attention for help,” said Ms. Lu, the school counselor of FIHS. These students who are thinking of harming themselves might have already harmed themselves. This number of students are out of only 45 respondents and it doesn’t even represent the whole school. There is a lot more students in FIHS who are going through this mental phase.
Lack of Screening
“No teachers or counselor checked on me like that, you know, asking if I am okay, mentally,” says a 16 years old girl who is from a country in South Asia, currently attending Flushing International High School. She mentions that even though she has been feeling depressed for years, no one talked to her about this issue. Due to extreme pressure and stress in academics, she didn’t have time to focus on what she is going through and actually open up to someone. After coming to this country, she realized that she needed help but no one came forward to help her. “Everyone, my family, my relatives, my teachers kept asking how am I doing in school but not a single person asked how am I doing mentally. They never talked about how teens can go through depression or bad mental phase and that’s ok.” she said, it's very recently that she opened up to a teacher who recommended her to go to a counsellor.
While interviewing Ms. Lu, a school counselor, we came to know that because of background, culture, religion or people’s mindset, teens don’t really like to talk about this issue. Another counselor Ms. Juliana talks about how society affects the screening of this issue. She thinks that since other people, especially elders don’t give importance to this issue, teens feel uncomfortable talking about this. They think it's not right to share your feelings, emotions and go through a bad mental phase. They are scared to be labeled as someone crazy. Ms. Lu revealed the process to find out about their mental health. “It’s not something you can eyeball and find out. There is a process for it.” she told us that when a student comes and talk to them, they give the student an evaluation paper which asks questions related to the symptoms of depression, anxiety, self-harming or suicidal thoughts. Based on what he/she have answered, they find out their mental state.
According to the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey of 2012 and 2013, 4.2% is the overall rate for depression screening in primary health care. Dr. Akincigil says, "4% suggests many missed opportunities for depression screening." “In 2016 a multicultural health center found that only 9.1% of clients were screened and followed up for depression.” This number is an increased number since 2012 and 2013 but still a very low number. People supposed to know and talk about this issue when not even 10% of the patients are screened for their mental health.
Lack of Support
“Usually, parents and family are the ones to help overcome this but in my case, I didn’t have the support. I still don’t. In Fact, they contributed to this. They are one of the reasons I am going through this,” says Ashia, a 16 years old girl who is from a country in South Asia, currently attending Flushing International High School. She mentioned that in her family, they don’t talk about this. They don’t provide the support they should to a person who is going through a bad mental phase. They don’t even know if someone close to them is going through a hard time. “My family was busy with their own problems and never noticed the change in me.” In fact, if someone talks about this and tries to share their problems, feelings, then they are not understood and taken wrong. “I knew that they are going to consider me wrong for whatever is happening. That’s why I never shared my problems, feelings with them.”
“People who have mental health problems, are looking for someone who can hear them and can talk about the problem,” says Ms. Juliana, a school counselor of Flushing International High School. According to her, family and friends support plays a big role in this. Their support makes these people, especially teens feel like they are not alone and that there are people who are there for them and will support them. “This will help those people.” She says, “Depression is something that many people don't like to talk about because they feel scared of what society will say about it. They will say that it is not serious and they just want to catch the attention from others.” In our society, there is a tendency to judge others, what they are going through and usually, they make fun of them. This makes the people, especially teens who are going through a bad mental phase feel scared. They don’t want to talk because they don’t want to be judged.
“Sometimes they think their family would be better off without her,” says Ms. Lu, another school counsellor of Flushing International High School. They think this way because they are not getting any support from their families, their closed ones. If the family supports their children properly and make them feel comfortable around them, then these teens will be able to overcome this phase.
“This is a really difficult time and if the parents take care of them well, than it gets fine, otherwise, it gets so bad,” says the mother of one student from Bangladesh. She said that parents’ love and affection is really important to their children at this time because they expect it from you. They feel hopeless and helpless and want their parents to support them. She mentions, “parents’ lack of support pushes their children away from them and more towards the darkness.” Usually, a child or teen is more close to his/her family more than anyone else and if they don’t provide support at this time, and are reluctant to seek support from teachers and counselors than the teen will fall deeper into depression.
Lack of Mental Health Education Programs
Every school have physical education as one of the important classes because it will help many students to develop their physical bodies and help students to get exercise to maintain good health. The school counselor informs that students need a minimum 4 credits for physical education in order to graduate from FIHS. They need to earn this credit consistently throughout the high school years. It shows how seriously physical education is taken in school. However, there is not much attention paid to help many students to know how to deal with stress caused by a lot of homework or personal problems. After interviewing students from outside NYU, we came to know that many students don’t feel supported with their mental health because there is no counseling in their school. They complain of not having mental health education or counseling to help them out of their depression, stress, anxiety. They say, it’s hard to cope up with their problems without any support, which is why they sometimes don’t even want to go to school.
When we asked some students if they would like to have mental health education in school or not, a lot of them gave positive answers. One student says, “We have physical education in our school, so why not mental health?” said Jannat, a 19 years old FIHS student. Another student says, “I think it’s necessary to have mental health education since the amount of students going through mental health problems have increased a lot. It’s only fair to have mental health education because we already have physical education.” said Yaraslava, an 18 years old FIHS student. These students are concerned about the increased number of depressed teens and they want to help others as much as possible.
“Having mental health education will create awareness among the teens and help them out if they are going through something.” said Rubab, a senior at FIHS. It’s very rare that people talk about this issue openly and that’s why the teens who are suffering don’t open up and get help. Another student pointed out, “we always have workshops about relationship abuse, safety, sex, drugs, HIV or AIDS, but never about mental health,” said Mayra, another senior at FIHS. We already have no class about mental health and on top of that, we also don’t have any workshops to give us any knowledge about it.
One student who didn’t have a strong opinion on mental health education said, “We have school counselors, I mean I guess that helps. So It’s not really a big deal if we don’t have mental health education,” said Muhammad, a 16 years old FIHS student. Even though there are school counselors to help the students, it doesn’t help much because not many students know about the counselors or feel comfortable with them. One of the alumni students who graduated 2 years ago from FIHS said, “Counselors don’t help much.” He says that he feels okay for the moment, after sharing the problems but the feeling comes back again within a few hours, a few days the most.
A student from FIHS named Yava who is 18 years old said that she felt very uncomfortable when she went to the counselor’s office. She wasn’t feeling good about the whole situation. “They are not going to help you, they say they are concerned about you but they don’t.” “I didn’t believe the counselor,'' she said. She thinks that the counselors are saying all the nice and positive things because it’s their job. They don’t feel connected to us or our situation to help us out. “It takes a lot of courage to share your problems with the counselor. You don’t know that person. You are strangers,” said Ashia, another FIHS student who is 17 years old. All these make us think that school counselor are not enough. We need something more which will be helpful for the teens and others to actually solve this issue.
Lack of Laws for Mental Health
Teen depression is a huge issue which haven’t been acknowledged yet with only a few laws to protect mental health. In 1955, The eighty fourth congress passed a bill to improve mental health and public health of the people of this country by establishing and expanding already existing programs. This is a bill which was passed to help make people’s health better than before. This bill created more programs for public mental health for people.
In 1996, The Mental Health Parity Act was established to require insurance companies to provide the same types of coverage for mental health issues, providing, in a sense, mental health benefits to their coverage. This was an act to make sure mental health services are provided equally as physical health services by the insurance companies because mental health is as important as physical health. But this law was not successful because the insurance companies started making policies to avoid providing mental health services to all.
Some states have already started taking actions for the students’ mental health. According to the New York Times, Oregon and Utah are the two states which have decided to give 5 days off for student mental health in three months period. This means, in every three months, students will get five days off from school for their mental health. People are hoping that other states will soon follow the step and take action for students’ better mental health.
These are just a few laws supporting mental health. Despite these laws, the rate of depressed teens have been increasing. Depression, Suicide, Self-harming, all falls under teen mental health and the rate is increasing at alarming speed. According to the Washington Post, youth suicide was rare and not frequent for many years but this vhanged when suicide among people who are 10 to 24 years old have increased by 56% from 2007 to 2017. Significantly, the LA Times reports that in 2017 only, 5,016 males and 1,225 females from age 15 to 24 were victims of suicide in the U.S.A.
Every problem has a solution and with a strong will and a lot of effort, we can find the solution. Many people do not realize how big issue teen depression is, they think it’s not a big deal or it's just a temporary issue. But “It’s more common than you think.” says Ms. Lu. She added that a lot of people don’t even know this problem exists. They are oblivious to the fact that many teens are suffering from depression and ending their lives because of it. “Many people will be surprised to know how many students suffer from depression, self-doubt.”
This is not an issue people talk about. Therefore, we need to create awareness. We need to make people know how serious this issue is and we have to take steps to solve this. This is not something that can be solved in a snap of fingers. Family and friends are the ones who can help their closed ones by acknowledging what they are going through and support them through this.
They need to accept that it’s okay to be depressed and have mental health issues. “Try to understand their feelings,” says Ms. Jillian, a FIHS teacher. Understanding them will help us to support them and make them feel better. “You need advice when you are depressed, you need a person to speak to.” says one FIHS student. She said that it’s a lot for her when she has someone to talk about what she’s going through and can get advice to overcome this. She said, “I feel like parents or guardians should always keep an eye on the children in a way to observe what’s happening with them. If there is any change, then they should talk to them in a friendly, warm way to make them understand that they will support their children no matter what.”
Everyone is close to their family and friends the most, with their love, support and care, the people who are suffering can overcome their bad mental phase. Another student from FIHS says, “The parents should be open about this issue. They should accept that their children can go through a bad mental phase and they need to support them. Make them feel comfortable with you so that they don’t hesitate to their problems, feelings and emotions with you.” Usually, elders are ignoring this issue and not being open about it. This is not good for the ones going through depression. she thinks, parents not suporting them or miscommunication with them pushes their children more towards depression and suicide. It makes them think their families are better off without them. More laws should pass to protect mental health. There should be education about mental health to make the students understand the problem and possible solutions to it. We can solve this only when we try to do so. Otherwise, more teens will be the victims of it.
DISCLAIMER: We contacted the following organizations to request information about Teen Mental Health and were told we would be contacted later but they never contacted us back. When we tried again, we met with the same result.
Western Queens Consultation Center, Woodside Office located in 61-20 Woodside Avenue, Lower Level, Woodside, NY 11377
Western Queens Consultation Center, Sunnyside Office located in 44-04 Queens Boulevard, 2nd Fl. Sunnyside, NY 11104
The Child Center of NY located in 67-14 41st Avenue, Woodside, Woodside, NY 11377
Overwhelmed FIHS Senior, 2019