by Rose Klales

Many people experience depression or anxiety in their life, but in recent years, it seems that teenagers exhibit symptoms of mental health disorders with alarming frequency.

Researchers have taken note of the sudden increase and call the phenomena “the silent epidemic” – one in five adolescents suffers from a mental health disorder, and many of those children do not receive proper medical treatment.

The two most common mental disorders in high school students are anxiety and depression according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The two have similar symptoms, including (but not limited to) panic attacks, depressive episodes, perfectionism, mood swings, being overly tired, insomnia, lack of appetite, patterns of self-injury and suicidal thoughts. Both disorders can be the result of or the cause of other mental health issues.

To aid students, many schools have begun to focus more heavily on mental health awareness. Leslee Frye, school psychologist for the Upper School at Springside Chestnut Hill Acdemy, said that the school offers many different forms of support for students.

“People want to know more,” Frye said. “People are embracing who they are.”

Frye said that in recent years, more students are seeking information to help themselves and their friends, and more people are willing to understand mental health issues. The interest in and pursuit of information has empowered youth to become their own advocates and seek guidance.

The Local interviewed three students from three different high schools, all of whom have mental health issues. Each said that they felt their schools were working to provide better mental health services. Because of the sensitivity, the Local agreed not to name the students.

A student from Mastery Pickett, a charter school in Germantown, said that although they felt the school could do more, the efforts the Pickett campus makes helped them feel optimistic for future students. However, there is still some stigmatization around the issue.

A student at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy noted that while her school does heavily encourage mental health awareness, she still felt that there are still some common misconceptions among her peers.

“I wish that there was more room to talk about it,” she said “Like for a lot of classes, they expect you to be really on it, but sometimes you can’t keep up with that.”

She said she felt if people could speak more openly, there would be less stereotyping around mental health.

Another student from William Penn Charter School expressed that in school he felt safe, but the media’s representation of mental health “romanticized what it’s like to feel anxious.”

“There’s a fine line between being anxious a couple of times a month, and being anxious almost every waking moment of your life,” he said.

Both students felt that their schools had an important role to play in raising awareness for mental health, and it would seem that schools in the area are rising to the occasion.

Frye and the students interviewed emphasized the important work of individual teachers and parents in helping adolescents cope with their mental health. The male student told the Local that having a good relationship with his teachers helped him feel less alone in his struggles. The female SCH student said it was good to talk through issues with because it helped her gain clarity.

Frye agreed that talking is important. She said that both teachers and parents should “just sit with them [your child] and let them get it out and be there.”

She said doing so promotes open dialogue about mental health, good relationships and strengthens coping skills.

Helping adolescents cope with their mental health encourages them to become functional and emotionally intelligent adults. The issue begins in schools and carries on with parents. Being able to embrace and discuss mental health issues openly with children helps them grow into emotionally intelligent adults.

For more information on how to help people struggling with mental health disorders, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America at ADAA.org

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