Mental Health and the High School Student


Kathryn Zitt, Writer

In the past few years, there has been a greater push to end the stigma against mental illness. More celebrities are coming forward and sharing their stories; more people are getting comfortable and seeking help. However, the problem is still significant when you look at the numbers. According to NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness), approximately 1 in 5 youths between the ages of 13-18 experience some type of mental illness. That is about 21.4% of the population.

You may think that’s not a lot, but in a smaller tight-knit community like a high school, the numbers tend to add up. Mental illness is caused by a number of things: trauma, stress, home environment, or simply, a change in one’s brain function. In a school environment, with high-stress levels and a number of social interactions ranging from awkward to chaotic, it’s no wonder the average teenager might find themselves facing emotional and mental health issues. Depending on the person, some teenagers may find themselves hesitant to come forward and seek treatment for their mental illness. Whether it’s a result of a lack of a positive support system, the inability to afford treatment, or just a general sense of shame and embarrassment, the discussion regarding mental illness in the U.S. is far from over. We should be taking more steps in order to ensure the way we handle mental illness in this country becomes more open and efficient.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15-24. This is not okay. Yes, we are having the discussion, but what is the point of holding it when we are still seeing a high rate of teen suicide and depression? The way we portray mental illness in our TV shows, movies, and media affect the way children and youth view the diseases they may be suffering from. They may become misinformed, and misinformation can lead to a warped view of said illness. We constantly see movies about people in mental health facilities with hallucinations becoming violent mass killers. In reality, people who face mental illnesses that give them hallucinations and delusions (such as psychosis, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder) can be fully functional with treatment and a positive support system. Depression on TV shows is often depicted as a silent sort of romantic disease and a mark of intelligence. Not only that, but it can be quickly done away with by falling in love or with an inspirational speech at the end of a good ten minute after school special. In reality, depression is the brain’s inability to produce serotonin, making simple self-care tasks (eating, showering, sleeping, getting out of bed) almost impossible. Depression isn’t melancholic intelligence, in fact, according to John Hopkin’s University, low dips in mood and motivation can severely affect a person’s academic performance. Even the way we portray obsessive-compulsive disorder is incorrect. We associate it with hyper-cleanliness and organization, and while that can be a symptom, it is also a symptom of many other mental illnesses. In fact, OCD is the constant repetition of menial tasks, usually stemming from a trauma. For example, a person with OCD will not become upset if the floors are not washed, but may feel the need to scrub the floors exactly 32 times every day and will become uncomfortable if it is not exactly 32.

There’s a lot left to do to fix the way we handle mental illness in our country, but one of the first steps we should be taking is changing the way we see these illnesses and the way we depict them for children and teens. We should show them the real and honest portrayal of these diseases as they are more common than you may believe and we should be teaching our kids that while suicidal thoughts are not normal, they can be treated and a person can find help and work towards a recovery.

And if you’ve ever had suicidal thoughts please contact this number:  1-855-654-6735

Here is a chatline if you are uncomfortable talking on the phone: