By BELLA PADDACK
Communication By Design
Mental health has become a silent epidemic among the nation’s youth.
Mental health issues have increased rapidly for teenagers in the United States and has emerged as a key issue in a school setting. Nationally, in a classroom of 25 students, five of those struggles with depression or anxiety.
The national average for teenagers, between the ages of 13 and 18, who struggle with mental health is 1 in 5, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. An article produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that approximately 50 percent of lifetime mental health cases are diagnosed at 14, and 6 percent of teenagers take anti-depressants or other psychiatric prescription drugs when they are young and run the risk of becoming dependent on them.
A survey sent to Sierra High students indicated that 288 of the 328 who responded have a history of mental health, or 88 percent. Sierra principal Steve Clark understands these can be difficult times during a difficult age. He takes pride in creating a campus that supports mental health and works to keep students connected to their campus community.
"I believe that we provide a positive climate and strong culture and belief that each of our students can reach their full potential every day," he said. "We have a caring staff that also teaches accountability, which will benefit students in their daily lives. We have high standards and expectations for every student on our campus.
"We also try to connect each student to a club, program, or athletic team to get involved and meet new people and mentors. We are here for students when they need academic assistance or social-emotional support. We are not perfect, but we always endeavor to that standard."
Nearly 90 percent of the Sierra students who took the survey identified school as a stressor. Family was second at 53 percent. School and family often go together, as managing the demands of family, school and work can be strenuous for students. Sierra junior Elliott Naven is mastering the art of life balance. In addition to his course load, Naven works 18 hours a week as a lifeguard at Great Wolf Lodge.
“At school, I try to do as much work as a I can. Whenever I have free time, I make sure to cram. When I work, I focus on work. When I get home, I make time for family and homework,” Naven said. “Sometimes, I have to switch those two around depending on due dates.
“It is (a tough balancing act). I don’t feel like I get a lot of ‘me’ time, because I’m doing something with school, work, or my brothers or mom and dad. I’ve been able to adjust, though, to balancing all three.”
Many students use athletics as a coping mechanism. Practices and games offer a release from the stress of school, family and/or work. But student-athletes represent a small percentage of Sierra’s total student body. Only 29 percent of the students surveyed use sports as a coping mechanism, which begs the question: If you’re not a student-athlete or enjoy playing a sport, how do you cope?
“Not everyone is an athlete, and not everyone plays a sport,” said Chad Agostini, a Valley Community Counselor at Sierra High. “At Sierra there are clubs, eSports, band, choir, you can do weight training, exercises, you can train for the sport in your off season, or you can create a social club. You can create something where you gather people and work on self-care or read a book. I recommend these things because mental health and physical health have a bidirectional relationship. If your physical health is good then your mental health will follow, and vice versa.”
Sierra High provides additional resources for students who may be struggling with stress. Those on-campus resources include: VCC services; academic counselors; Peer Resource, a student-driven class led by teacher Janet Sanders; and the San Joaquin County Crisis Hotline (209-468-8686) and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255).
Said Clark in a statement to Paw Prints:
"Manteca Unified does an excellent job of prioritizing student and staff health and safety, which includes mental health. We have two excellent Valley Community Counselors on site at Sierra as well as an amazing team of academic counselors, a school psychologist, paraeducators, and administration who are available to counsel and connect students and parents with resources at school and in the community. We also have outstanding nurses on staff who tend to everything health-related with students and staff, whether it be physical or mental health. Our Peer Resource class led by former MUSD Secondary Educator of the Year, Janet Sanders, does an amazing job of providing peer-to peer counseling to students on a wide range of teen issues. They are trained in conflict resolution, providing academic support and resources, and the protocols for referring more serious mental health issues. SHS Peer Resource has a 70 percent success rate with all student referrals, meaning that 7 out of 10 students are able to find a resolution to their conflict with assistance from Peer Resource."
Agostini believes an even greater effort to promote these resources and perform regular check-ins on students and staff may help curb the stress-related statistics. In the meantime, students and teachers are encouraged to advocate for their own well-being. Agostini believes in the value of “unplugging.”
“Students and teachers, it is so important for you to give yourself permission to unplug, regroup and rewind without feeling guilty,” Agostini said. “It protects yourself from burnout and it helps your mind focus. Overcoming the stigma of mental health and self-stigma in high schoolers comes from recognition, awareness and the education we all need.”
Bella Paddack is a junior at Sierra High School, studying Communication By Design. Paddack is two-time All American cheerleader and current varsity cheerleader at Sierra. Paddack is alsothe current queen of the Manteca-Ripon Pentecost Society Hall located in Manteca. When she isn’t busy holding poms or wearing a crown, she enjoys playing her guitar and piano.