Mental Health Education at WSHS

Each year, the sophomore class that covers a variety of topics related to mental and physical well being. One of these units is mental health, where students learn about mental illness, stress, and coping with stressful situations. There are inventories and activities that help students to understand the signs of poor mental health, and how to help others who are struggling. 

“If you really knew me” is an activity where students anonymously write down anything that will be shared with the class. Many students used this activity to open up about their personal challenges.  

One student wrote, “If you really knew me, you’d know that I feel never good enough for school, my friends and my family. ”

After doing this activity for several years, health teachers David Neuman and Jamie Olson are noticing a common thread in the statements being shared. While some of these statements are shocking, there is a repeating pattern with students struggling with depression and anxiety. 

As a student listening and participating, it was eye opening. Many students wrote about their experiences with depression, anxiety, body image, and difficult home lives. It allowed students to see what their peers might be going through, and shed light on how everyone struggles in a different way.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in six U.S. youth experience a mental health disorder each year. Students deal with these illnesses every day. Are teachers able to recognize these signs? Teaching health could make it easier when looking for signs. “I think there’s definitely some students in this school who are struggling with things like depression and anxiety,” said health teacher Mr. Neuman, “because students share some things through different assignments.” 

But in some situations, signs aren’t as apparent. While some adolescents are able to be noticed and reached out to, others can put on a mask. Teens may not always show that they need help. “We do see and recognize those signs but sometimes it is hard. We do miss kids,” said health teacher Mr. Olson, “hopefully their friends, after the unit, they pick up on it.”

It’s very important that others around a person who is struggling, are able to safely help them. When a teacher is able to notice that a student is struggling, how can a teacher help a student get help? “Through some of the activities, sometimes they do open up to us,” says Olson. “It gives us an avenue to talk with Ms. Tripp or Mrs. Arentz and have them call the student in or keep them on their radar.” 

When someone is physically ill, they aren’t able to perform at their best. The same concept applies with mental illnesses, which can affect all aspects of life, including school. In the classroom, it becomes challenging to stay focused or even show up. “It’s hard for students to do their best in school when they have other basic needs to fill,” said Neuman.

Mental health has a negative stigma that has to be broken. Teaching students about mental health in schools is one way to open up a much needed conversation. Being aware and educated on the topic can help you recognize warning signs of poor mental health in yourself and loved ones. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out for help by contacting student services or calling an emergency helpline if necessary. “Every adult in this building cares,” says science teacher Mrs. Stenberg, “always know there’s always hope.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255