High Schools Ignore Mental Health, Students Suffer

A girl sits at a desk, surrounded by fluorescent lights and the sounds of twenty other pencils on paper, with a quick glance around, the students around her seem to be excelling at the test in front of them. Tears prick at her eyes; she looks down at the paper but the words blur together and she can’t stop thinking about the way her eyes are tired and hurting. The clock ticks and the arrows and numbers don’t provide anything but an uneasy feeling that time is moving too fast. Only hours before this, a teen girl sat in a doctor’s office as phrases like disorder and mental health were thrown around without a true definition. This girl suffers from generalized anxiety disorder. Her mind is struggling and she fears irrational realities. Yet, she sits in a classroom with twenty other students, her teacher making empty statements of reassurance that mean nothing. Her grades tell her she’s stupid, her peers show her she should try better, and the school tells her that they care about her mental health

This girl is only a specific example of what hundreds of high school students are going through. Schools end up piling up pressure about activities, plans for the future, grades, and social life. But when so many things are on a student’s mind, especially one without the experience to maintain their mental health, it’s almost impossible for them to perform their best.

A countless number of students sit at desks, silently suffering from mental illness or mental health issues. They’re too afraid to seek help, and the sight of their peers all seeming to be perfectly fine repels them from talking to someone. Mental health is an extreme issue, oftentimes even emerging because of a toxic school environment, and yet schools do nothing for their students. Districts across America cover up their ignorance of mental health by providing things similar to break rooms or opportunities to talk to a counselor. While these are good for students, they’re far from enough to help, and aren’t even offered in many high schools. When kids spend half the day at school only to return to a possibly bad home life, a stack of work given by teachers and the pressure to retain grades but also enjoy their quickly fleeting high school experience, it’s extremely damaging to students, previous mental health issues or not. Schools need to stop claiming they care about student’s mental health, and instead take action to really help the students who suffer under their roof.

There are three main causes of mental health issues that are exacerbated by the ignorance of school: natural development, academic stress, and discrimination. Many people ignore that mental illness can be a natural thing. People have been shown to be raised with an ‘average’ or even above average home life (this meaning they didn’t suffer abuse or difficulty as a child) and still develop a mental illness. Therefore, when schools may say that they make their environment relaxing or stress-free, they’re still ignoring the fact that this may not be enough to provide comfort to suffering students.

Of course, as much as schools say they are a comforting environment, there is no effort to stop the academic stress that students suffer from. For example, many high schools and even middle schools provide students with certificates for ‘distinguished honor roll’ (all A’s) or ‘honor roll’ (A’s and B’s), as well as display the ‘principal’s list’ which is a list of all students who got entirely A’s. This is nothing to argue with, as it recognizes students that put effort to retain good grades. However, by reinforcing the idea that getting all A’s shows the highest amount of effort, it puts more stress on students, even ones who may have gotten a single B. Even one low grade in a difficult class can keep a student from having their name displayed for their hard work. This idea that a letter grade reflects the amount of effort that was put into school is only reinforced when schools do more and more for students who got only A’s. A student’s mental health will only decrease as they overwork and degrade themselves by putting their worth into grades. Instead of claiming students who ‘try their hardest’ or ‘earned their grades’ are getting recognized, schools need to do more to appreciate all of their students.

The most well-known issue among high schools is the discrimination students face. Countless high schools put up signs that throw around words like respect and integrity, without really teaching their students what this means. One of the biggest causes for mental illness and mental health problems in kids is caused by discrimination, most commonly because of race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Teachers scold students every so often when they hear something inappropriate or rude, but schools and the people who run them never do anything to prevent discrimination from continuing. Most adults who run school districts are so detached from their students that sending out random messages and putting up posters is the most they do to help. A study done by the National Center for Education Statistics says that, “nearly all (96 percent) public schools reported providing mental health services for their students during the 2021-22 school year. However, 88 percent of public schools did not strongly agree that they could effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.” Even when schools recognize the struggle students are dealing with in their schools, we can see from this study that most representatives didn’t think they could properly care for their students. Providing small necessities for people who are willing to come out in the first place and say they’re suffering is not enough to prevent the increasing mental damage students are carrying in school. These statistics have even shown for years that the likelihood of suicide or self harm in students is much greater among people of color, and people who are in the LGBTQ+ community. The only way this can decrease is by raising students in an environment where they’re actually taught to be respectful and understanding.

There are so many causes of mental health problems that have been revealed as awareness has risen, but despite all the people fighting against harmful behavior, it seems only a few schools are making changes. If the adults who dedicate their lives to running high schools gave more attention to providing students with the resources they need, they would see that more students are suffering than they know. Countless possibilities of difficult home lives, organically developed mental illnesses,  academic stress reinforced by the flawed rewards system of school, and discrimination that seems to be ignored all add up to the degrading mental health of high school students. The only way to really help students to grow and be successful in life is to look deeper than grades and behavior and realize that students are suffering, and the schools they rely on are the problem.