Mental Health in Education: A Growing Problem Going Unaddressed
By S.R. Phobe, student
Approximately one in five teenagers today suffers from at least one mental disorder. Young people have higher rates of overall mental illness and severe mental illness than older individuals, with many people having gone so far as to say that Gen Z is experiencing a mental health crisis.
Rates of mental illness in adolescents have been increasing over the past few decades, and 70% of teens say that anxiety and depression are significant problems among their peers. But while Gen Z might be the most depressed and anxious generation, we are also most likely to seek treatment and speak openly about mental health struggles. We understand that mental health is a serious concern, and we’re willing to explore ways to fix the crisis that is upon our generation. 83% of teenagers identified school as a significant source of stress—if we want to go about tackling this problem, let’s start with education.
NA for Change recently held a discussion about mental health as it relates to young people and education. The students who participated voiced concerns about adequate mental health services in school, the stigma surrounding mental illness, an unhealthy workload, and a culture that promotes academic achievement above individual wellbeing. Many students referenced their ninth grade health class, which they felt only showed the extremes of mental illness rather than how it manifests in a variety of ways. They also expressed frustration over lack of education on how to personally deal with stress or recognize warning signs of a mental illness.
Students have a nuanced understanding of many issues surrounding mental health, supported by firsthand experiences. Those who participated in the discussion explored complex issues like unequal access to mental health services and securing a diagnosis, the invisibility of mental illness compared to physical illness, the difference between mental illness and neurodivergence, and the blame placed on individuals who suffer from a mental disorder.
There was also talk of solutions. Students suggested that school counselors place a greater emphasis on support regarding mental health and reach out to students who may be struggling, and they proposed the idea of bringing in people who have personally dealt with mental illness to discuss their experiences. There was also widespread agreement on the need for some sort of district-wide baseline response to a student who is struggling with their mental health—currently that is up to individual teachers, who grant varying degrees of leniency and understanding, which makes it all the more challenging for students to keep up academically and navigate the school environment.
Students are obviously eager to talk about these issues—in fact, in a district where interests, backgrounds, and identities are extremely diverse, most students can find themselves relating to each other about stress and mental health struggles. This might create some odd sense of camaraderie, but it isn’t healthy, and it certainly isn’t normal.
#IAmForChange because mental health is a serious concern among the young people in this community, and many students are suffering unnecessarily due to lack of proper support.
When students bring up a problem that they feel affects the entire student body deeply, and when that concern is backed by national, decades-long trends, it must be addressed. It must be addressed by this entire community, especially by the adults who are responsible for student wellbeing. We can come up with solutions together—but that must first be preceded by a universal willingness to recognize the problem and a firm commitment to solving it.
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