by Cadence Gutman, staff writer

MARCH 2022  In recent years, the condition of teenagers’ mental health issues has been at the forefront of many discussions among teachers at schools across the country, including Bio-Med Science Academy.

Pictured is a mental health resource guide given to teachers on Mar. 7 during a professional development day. The guide features information on symptoms of depression and suicide. It also contains resources and advice about what to do when struggling with mental health. Photo by Cadence Gutman, staff writer.

According to the World Health Organization, it’s estimated that as of November 2021, a reported 3.6 percent of 10 through 14-year-olds and 4.6 percent of 15 through 19-year-olds experience an anxiety disorder. Depression is estimated to occur among 1.1 percent of adolescents aged 10 through 14, and 2.8 percent of 15 through 19-year-olds.

In accordance with these statistics, teachers at Bio-Med have taken measures to ensure that their students are mentally well.

As the seventh through ninth grade counselor, Mrs. Emily Lee helps students work through issues they may be facing. She said, “I can’t ‘fix’ anything for them, but I can help them find the tools to hopefully improve their situation while providing support along the way.” She continued, “Sometimes, this means I connect them with outside resources, too. We have great community resources for students who need more than what I can provide here as a school counselor.”

One of these resources is Children’s Advantage, an organization whose main goal is to improve mental health and behavioral issues in adolescents. Children’s Advantage can be applied inside school and outside of school. “It’s a great opportunity for our students who would benefit from therapy and consultation but have time constraints in the evenings, transportation issues, etc.,” Lee explained.

Teachers such as Heidi Hisrich, the ninth grade science instructor, have also made an effort to understand what students may be going through.

Hisrich explained that she was dealing with her own mental health struggles during the week of Feb. 21. “I think it might make you more sensitive to noticing when other people are struggling.” She added, “I also had a couple of students mention how much they were struggling, and that was kind of the tipping point for me.”

Hisrich continued, “Thursday during the flex project, it felt like there was this darkness in the room. Then that was the same day that I knew my dad was dying.” On Feb. 22, Hisrich’s father passed away after a battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease; she explained how this allowed her to become more aware of students’ behavior. “I made observations like body language and comments and stuff that made me think, it’s not just one person. Everyone’s really struggling.”

Ms. Rebecca Putman, the seventh through 12th grade art instructor, noticed a change in the school environment, and how that can affect students. “You know, post-winter break, when I think academic content has picked up and intensified, I think that due dates have started overlapping and expectations have been raised.” She elaborated, “Students are definitely more stressed out, at least from what I’ve seen and what they’ve told me.”

On Feb. 23, Hisrich sent an email to the ninth grade student body, asking how they were doing. She asked several questions that included, “How would you describe your mental health right now?” and, “What can I do to help your mental health?”

Hisrich was surprised by the responses, saying, “I was surprised by how open students were, and how long some of the responses were. Also that some people would apologize for their responses being long, or that they over-shared, when I had requested that they share. They still somehow felt like they needed to apologize.”

Vali Epling, a ninth grade student, responded to Hisrich’s email. “I have therapy every other Monday, but, you know, it certainly helped that someone who I’m around constantly asked how I was.”

Another ninth grader who responded to Hisrich’s email is Anna Turell. “It did [help] actually. It helped me realize that there are teachers out there who genuinely care, and aren’t just in the building to get paid.”

Turell had been enduring her own mental struggles. “My personal life definitely stresses me out much more compared to my grades. I’ve always been a straight A student but also accepting of B’s, and the mastery system has made me a little more laid back about it,” she described. “In my personal life, I tend to be an overthinker and overstress myself out about small little things.”

Mrs. Whitney Mihalik, the 11th grade College, Career and Civics Instructor, explained how students’ reasons for stress could vary. “Some students that are grade-oriented are going to be more anxious about their school work, and some students are more anxious regarding what’s going on in their personal lives.”

This can also differ between grades, she explained. “Teaching juniors, coursework changes a bit as we start transitioning students to prepare for college, so there is always a little stress around that.” She continued, “In recent months, I’ve noticed way more anxiety and issues among friend groups than ever before, so I’d lean toward personal life causing more stress at this point in the year.”

Although caring about their students’ mental health, many teachers aren’t trained to be professional psychologists. Charmayne Polen, the seventh through ninth grade chief operating officer, commented that while it is important for staff to have training in mental health issues, having the full professional training to the extent of a counselor or social worker, is not realistic. “It’s important for teachers to be able to recognize signs, but then also have the connection to the professional mental health workers, social workers, school counselors, school psychologists, to report these signs and then work together to support the students.” Polen stated, “Knowing about the resources available to schools is vital to give students what they need in terms of mental health support.”

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