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Students Sound Off! Mental health education in Long Island schools

Julia Manolios, a freshman at Floral Park Memorial

Julia Manolios, a freshman at Floral Park Memorial High School. Credit: Christine Manolios

Newsday asked several students who appeared in the weekly "Way to Go!" section in 2019: "Why is mental health education important for students in today's world?" Here is a sampling of their responses:

Julia Manolios, a freshman at Floral Park Memorial High School:

The world is less simple than it used to be; the "good old days" where high school could be the highlight of one's life are over. While the youth's struggles are being overlooked because of their age, they are simultaneously being forced to mature more rapidly than normal due to increased academic pressure, the generational divide between them and their parents, which creates a lack of mutual understanding and the absence of a healthy parent-child relationship, and the increase of the use of social media, which many validation-seeking youth turn to for guidance but which ultimately makes them feel inadequate. The results of these pressures are clear: a generation of matured youth with unaddressed issues, which lead to serious impacts on their mental health. As rates of mental health issues increase drastically, emphasis needs to be placed on educating the youth about such issues. One in five children from 13 to 18 has severe mental health issues, and most of them won't get proper treatment, primarily due to financial issues. This makes it more important than ever to include mental health in school curricula so children can learn how to handle mental illness and help others who may be struggling.

Ryann Henry, a sophomore at Garden City High School:

As a sophomore at Garden City High School, I see first hand how widespread academic and social pressure is today. It comes with little surprise to read the quote from Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State: "About one in five young people ages 13-18 will experience a severe mental health disorder … ."

As students in this age range, we are constantly stressed knowing things like college applications are just around the corner. Our counselors and parents constantly tell us that, in addition to having good grades, top-tier schools require us to join extracurricular activities to be accepted. So, in addition to taking challenging academic classes, like honors and AP courses, we need to allot time for other pursuits like sports, school clubs, band or orchestra, and community service. Simply put, there is just not much downtime in our busy schedules, which increases levels of stress and pressure.

I think it would be wonderful for schools to increase mental health literacy by creating programs to help students learn how to successfully relieve stress. Most importantly, if students are taught how to manage their time efficiently and stay calm during stressful situations before the anxiety reaches dangerous levels, we can get Liebman’s statistic way down.

Miles Kim, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School West in Dix Hills:

I have always questioned the usefulness of certain aspects of our education. It seemed to me that there was no reason for us to learn everything we did in high school. I have realized that the real purpose of school is to teach us to interact and learn with others in a shared environment so that we have the means to succeed later on in life. In order to prepare students in today's world, students must become more aware of issues that are becoming increasingly more relevant in our world. Students must learn to become more aware of the signals of mental illness, so they may be able to deal with it when a situation arises or to prevent it in the first place. Stress, a core component of mental health, plays a significant role in everyone's life, and students should be given the toolkit to deal with it. Why is mental health education important for students in today's world? Dealing with mental health is a common experience in life, and school is a preparation for life.

Joseph Candia, a senior at North Babylon High School:

As someone with a mental health disorder, anxiety to be exact, I believe mental health needs to be emphasized more in schools. More and more children are being both diagnosed with and underdiagnosed with mental health disorders. It is very important that students, especially those who may not understand how severe these disorders are, know that mental health is a very important part of your daily life. One way this can be done is through students who are comfortable talking about their experience with mental health disorders talking to classes or a whole grade level. Therapy dogs can be brought in for specific students. This is not a reward, merely an extra helping hand to some students. Mental health is becoming a more prominent part in our society. People need to be educated. Also, mental health days are a wonderful idea for students with these disorders or stresses or for undiagnosed students to take a load off and be able to talk a therapist or other professional to help them.

Jacob Karavias, a junior at Sachem High School North in Lake Ronkonkoma:

Mental health education, once shrouded by the school system, is now one of the most widely talked about subjects in school. In the past, there were few options for students to speak about mental health or everyday stresses they felt. Many things have changed over the past couple of decades. Today, kids do less "outside stuff" with their friends. Kids today are playing violent video games that may encourage poor mental health or maybe even develop it. Social media may also encourage poor social skills, which may lead to poor mental health. Overall, technology has made it difficult for our generation to communicate productively. It is more than technology and social media to blame. We are busier kids than our parents, and that is stressful. Everything is more competitive now than decades ago. Many students like myself feel that life is more hectic than it should be, between applying to colleges, athletics, working, and schoolwork piling up, causing stress. But through education about mental health, students realize that these feelings are shared with their peers. Kids with issues know they can get help. That is because they have learned in class how important mental health is.

Vimarsha Sital, a senior at Southampton High School:

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States. We as people are causing this plague by not educating ourselves; but with more schools touching base on mental health, myths are less likely to be carried throughout the years. Being part of a generation that is more accepting of mental illnesses, we have taken great strides in helping those in the dark. The first step is teaching the signs, facts and how to help someone suffering from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. By having people aware of red flags, we prevent people from hurting themselves and others, especially when it comes to saving one's life. Learning the importance of mental health in schools not only teaches students how to help someone suffering mentally, but gives hope to the youth that there is always help available through counseling services, apps, retreats, crisis lines, etc. By introducing this heavy topic into a classroom, we can hope that it'll decrease the rate of suicide and encourage more people to seek help.

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