Horace Mann needs more mental health support

Horace+Mann+needs+more+mental+health+support

Ryan Nikitiatis , Contributing Writer

There exists a mental health crisis amongst students in the U.S.  and it’s worsening every year. According to USA Today, in 2019 “1 in 3 high schoolers reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a 40% increase from 2009.” These are alarming figures that may make us question how well the school is managing the mental health needs of its students.

The answer — not well. Though the school offers many advantages and privileges, its  competitive culture can feel overwhelming. Students with strict parents particularly suffer because they feel like they cannot catch a break, and they are often too scared to ask for one. They finish a rigorous day at school just to face extremely high standards at home, feeling like if they do any less than perfect, they will bring disappointment.

When students share grades, they can unintentionally put pressure on each other and perpetuate unrealistic expectations and stress. We all know these consequences, yet the vast majority of the student body does it. Students should be happy for their friends’ success, but the school’s competitive nature causes jealousy and rifts in friendships because of the pressure to constantly be better than our peers.

In my time at the school, I have witnessed countless students cry because of assessments. This is further amplified during “hell weeks,” heavy work weeks with a seemingly endless stream of assessments and assignments. During hell weeks, I have tried to get more sleep and relax, but I struggle to prioritize my mental health because of the heavy workload.

Another problem — and a seemingly unsolvable one — is the lack of sleep that students get. All students know we should try to get six to eight hours of sleep per night, but the hours of homework in addition to athletics and extracurriculars can make this an impossible feat. This results in a cycle of exhausted students trudging through the day without understanding the material they are learning, procrastinating at home because they are confused, and experiencing feelings of failure and stress.

Given the extent of these stressors that students face, the school must do more to meet students’ mental health needs. The Counseling and Guidance Department is accessible to all students who need it, but students who do not proactively reach out due to stigma struggle silently. Some students are also deterred by privacy concerns since the guidance counselors are affiliated with the school — to prevent misunderstanding, counselors can explain their intentions and the limitations of confidentiality in the first meeting. 

The school also needs to acknowledge the barriers to students and establish more pathways to help. Start with mandatory workshops that teach students how to deal with stress and anxiety, run by counselors — not by upperclassmen in HMO. Taking it a step further, all students should be required to see a school guidance counselor as part of their regular academic programming. Mandatory meetings can be very helpful for students who cannot receive mental health support at home, destigmatize seeking help, and give every student an outlet. 

Furthermore, outreach and education should extend beyond students, to parents and teachers so they know how to help students. Some parents “don’t believe in mental health”; some teachers avoid direct confrontation of these issues due to discomfort. For student mental health needs to be met, we need a team effort. 

There are more solutions the school can easily implement to reduce stress levels: 

Students should have a number of allowed mental health days per year (with extensions in special circumstances), using the honor code to prevent misuse of this system. Mental health struggles can impede a student’s ability to learn and affect their overall well-being, so it should be treated just as importantly as physical health.

Teachers can allow for greater flexibility around assignment due dates if the situation calls for it. Some teachers barely allow for any extensions, and those who do often are not very flexible, sometimes requiring a dean to sign off on extensions. While they have good reasons for this, a student should be able to get the sleep they need to function properly instead of staying up all night to produce subpar work.

We have the ability to address this mental health crisis. It is time we take the “secure and healthful environment” core value seriously, and back up our words with action.