Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide statistics.
Imagine this: You don’t have enough time to get to class in the six minutes you have between periods, so you have to dip out of class to run to the bathroom. You are either in a huge rush, trying not to miss any important instruction from a teacher, or in no rush at all, dreading having to go back to class. As you walk into the bathroom, the first thing that hits you is the smell: a mixture of odors that high schoolers tend to carry around with them blended with the various odors of a bathroom. Then you hear the sobs, echoing throughout the bathroom. They normally come from someone locked in a stall.
When I say that I don’t know what to do when I hear that sobbing, I’m speaking for many high schoolers. Do I comfort them? Do they want to be left alone? Do I talk to them about mental health, or is that making an assumption from the classic high school scenario that every teenager experiences once in a while?
I witness this about once a week, and my friends and classmates have shared similar experiences. When I was struggling with mental illness, I too was the one in the stall.
Students regularly crying in the bathroom shows the lack of resources some schools have. Even when schools do have a variety, as mine does, the resources are often available only on a schedule.
Frankly, students cannot put their tears on a schedule. As a consequence, some students feel the need to lie about missing school: saying that they are physically ill since this excuse is seen as more acceptable. Taking a day off for one’s mental health can be crucial, but this is often unheard of and unexcused in a myriad of schools.
These difficulties need to be addressed now, not just after a suicide in the county or community. It is important to be proactive instead of reactive. No, kids are not just being dramatic. Our feelings are valid and more common than many believe.
My perspective on mental health in high schools is echoed in recent research:
- 17% of students seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12 months before being surveyed.
- Nationally, only 40% of students with emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders graduate from high school (compared to a national average of 76%).
- Over 50% of students ages 14 and older with emotional and behavioral disabilities drop out of high school. This is the highest dropout rate of any disability group!
It is important that mental health is addressed properly in high school. Students need to know how to Validate-Appreciate-Refer (V-A-R) so they can help someone in any of the situations previously mentioned, and adequate resources are made available to students at all times.
To learn more about Active Minds’ everyday guide for everyday challenges, head to activeminds.org/var.