Commentary: End the Mental Health Stigma in Schools

Christina Sacco ('22), Orbit Contributor

As a teacher, if a student approaches you and asks to go to the nurse because they hurt their knee and are bleeding, you feel a sense of urgency and send them to the nurse. Why is it treated differently when a student says they need to leave the room because they are anxious? It should be treated the same, and the stigma around mental health that continues in schools is a serious problem. 

When I took a college visit to Syracuse University, I was impressed by their new approach to helping their students feel comfortable when seeking mental health support. They had a brand new wellness building in which one half of the building focused on mental wellness, while the other half concentrated on physical wellness. The mental side had many offices for therapy, and the physical side had a brand new gym with lots of equipment for any type of physical activity you preferred. The tour guide then went on to talk about how the school’s goal with this building was to eliminate the stigma that surrounds students who walk into a therapy building. Whether you walk into this building because you need a 30 minute treadmill session to alleviate stress or you need 30 minutes with a mental health therapist… it should be viewed as one in the same.

Syracuse’s solution should be the future.

A student, whether in high school or college, should not be viewed differently by going to the gym for their wellness, or therapy. I will admit that this solution is expensive and unrealistic for high schools. For high schools, there are more practical solutions. First, teachers should treat mental and physical ailments the same, and should not be bringing attention to one more than the other.  Second, staff should offer to all students the chance to go in and have a private meeting regarding anything you feel your teacher should know in terms of your mental health and wellness. Similar to a baseline concussion test, only this would be a “baseline mental health check in”. These meetings will allow teachers to know what to expect from you, how to deal with it, and how to avoid provoking unwanted emotions for students. These meetings should be optional, but offered to each student. As of right now, a student is welcome to ask teachers to meet and discuss these personal matters, but a teacher offering and encouraging it would be a lot more influential and push more students to want to open up. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing efforts that many schools have made to combat mental health and stress. At Reading High, they created two flex-block classes a week for students to catch up on work and have extra time to take care of themselves. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education offers a broad range of wellness training for teachers. Also, there are many clubs in the school for mental health awareness, and the guidance office has an amazing staff full of adults who are more than willing to help you at any time. My opinion is this: the stigma that surrounds mental health in schools is the true issue, not the way it is approached. Schools can do as much as they possibly can to combat issues surrounding this topic, but the stigma is too strong. 

Mental health issues have become very common, but that does not mean that it makes it any easier for those who struggle. Because of how common it is, it is hard to open up and share struggles because people don’t always believe you. Many people either think you’re exaggerating or just saying that because you want attention, or you read about it somewhere and thought it applied to you. 

These situations often occur and that is just the way society is, but in general it is not acceptable to disregard someone’s emotions. If I said I had a stomach ache right now because I just ate too much candy, would you believe me? Probably, because that is acceptable and there is no reason not to believe me. Now, if I said I was going to throw up because my anxious thoughts have taken control, would you believe me? You may not and you may have suspicions, and that is what needs to stop.