By Eden Placer, Contributing Writer ‘24

The very people that high schools are committed to supporting are the students who attend them. Yet, a CDC report concluded that the percentage of 12-17 year olds who visited emergency rooms for mental health reasons increased 31% in 2020 when compared to the prior year. Especially in the present-day, as two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought both physical and mental health crises to the forefront of the world, many are turning towards those in a position of power to take action on this pressing matter. 

When mental health problems go unnoticed, a plethora of secondary complications are introduced. According to a study from the National Institute for Mental Health, 1 out of every 5 students in every United States classroom either has, or previously had, a debilitating mental health disorder. The struggles of these students may not be visible to those around them. 

When asked about Indian Hills’s approach to the subject matter of mental health, the student body wanted their voices to be heard. Regarding the atmosphere surrounding the topic and the approach the school has taken to address it, here is what students had to say:

How open do you think talk of mental health is at IHHS? What effect do you think it really has on the student body?

“If I’m being honest, I think the topic of mental health at IHHS is slightly avoided. It’s very black and white when it comes to the conversation on the topic. It’s either mental health is cared about by people and helpfully discussed or people are uneducated on the conversation and it’s primarily viewed as a temporary thing by them that will easily go away the next day. There’s a lot of factors that can go into mental health, and I think that the majority of people just avoid the talk of mental health mainly because it can be extremely confusing for some people or it can be uncomfortable to talk about and address.”

(Kali Kuffel, Class of ‘23)

“I think how open people are about their mental health really depends on who they are surrounded by. Truly speaking, many of those who are able to voice their ideas are to people who can 1. Ensure confidentiality 2. Relate on a deeper level (if you know, you know) 3. Not make fun of them for it – Many kids keep their mental health issues bottled up inside of them which makes it hard for others to interact with them. I think that mental health is a topic that is becoming more and more open which is benefiting the student body.”

(Krishan Patel, Class of ‘24)

“In my opinion, the talk about mental health at IHHS is really limited […] I have heard loads of stories from friends about their guidance counselors saying extremely insensitive things, which even triggered me at some moments. Yes, I understand that school counselors shouldn’t be someone to come to in all situations, but for some students, that’s all they really have.”

(Anonymous, Class of ‘24)

What sort of effect do ‘Wellness Days’ or ‘Wellness Activities’ have on you?

“I haven’t had too severe of mental health issues thus far, but Wellness Days and Wellness Activities definitely do help. While they may not attack the core of the issue for those most deeply affected by mental health problems, they can help take off the edge that is produced by stress.”

(Krishan Patel, Class of ‘24)

“I like them, they are really fun in my opinion. They give you a minute to breathe and think. But, since they are during lunch periods, kids might not have time to eat. Some kids don’t usually prioritize eating and could use them as an excuse to get out of lunch. I would much rather have wellness days like once every two months.”

(Anonymous, Class of ‘24)

Do you feel that, in our school, there is any male or female bias in the context of mental health?

“Definitely. I feel like there is bias [regarding] male mental health. There are a lot of driving factors towards this including toxic masculinity and the overall notion that men shouldn’t be showing negative emotions like sadness and weakness.”

(Anonymous, Class of ‘22)

“I believe there is a lot of bias between the genders when it comes to mental health […] Constantly, I hear boys talking about girls being so ‘dramatic’ or ‘emotional’ – Even sometimes I hear jokes saying how, ‘It’s always her time of the month.’ Then there’s girl conversation on how guys can actually be really fragile or bottle up their emotions. But, then you also will hear girls talk about how guys are ‘so tough’ but also heartless. I believe there is a lot of bias between the genders when it comes to mental health, and there’s also a lot of bias when it comes to age and mental health.”
(Kali Kuffel, Class of ‘23)

What is your opinion on “non-wellness” breaks? Do you feel this concept is at all contradictory to the idea of what a break should be?

“Absolutely, this is a contradictory idea. I think that assigning work to students over a break is counterproductive. Breaks are meant for students and teachers to have time to step back from school and spend time relaxing, doing things they enjoy, and being with the people they love. Giving students work takes time away from this and makes students feel more tired and stressed.”

(Anonymous, Class of ‘22)

“This idea of a ‘non-wellness’ break is absolute bull. A break should be a time to breathe and relax because school is the most stressful place for any teenager […] Breaks are a time for you to relax and try and ease your mind. You shouldn’t have to worry about an essay due by the end of a break. The mere definition of a break, by Oxford Languages, says ‘A pause in work or during an activity or event.’ We all deserve that pause, even teachers. ‘Wellness’ breaks and breaks shouldn’t have two different meanings. There should be one – A break.”

(Anonymous, Class of ‘24)

Are there any faults or weaknesses the school has in terms of addressing and communicating about students’ mental health? Do you have suggestions on how to improve the approach?

“I think this school is very proficient at promoting a positive mental health agenda. The main issue is how difficult it can be to directly communicate with someone that would be able to solve your issues. If someone is suffering from an overbearing mental health issue, reducing the publicity of it can help a lot. Commonly, when something is reported, it is told to a plethora of other people which is not efficient. It leads to slow responses that also can barely help many times. I believe that there should be some way that people can directly contact higher-ups to get help quickly and effectively. The issue is that implementing that can be difficult.”

(Krishan Patel, Class of ‘24)

“When it comes to IHHS, the biggest con is that the majority of people are insensitive to the topic of mental health, uneducated on the topic, or just uncomfortable with the [reality] of mental health. If it’s going to be talked about, I think it has to be the right presenter, the right audience, and the right time. I once had a teacher say, ‘This generation is so sensitive. Just toughen up and be happy.’ Understandably, the teacher may not have been educated when it comes to mental health, but that comment can be rather insensitive to those who struggle with it.”

(Kali Kuffel, Class of ‘23)

“We need to stop bringing kids into one big room and telling them to speak up – No one does that. No one wants to tell others they are struggling. Students don’t trust teachers, and honestly, they probably never will. Teachers need to stop calling us all out in front of classes and making us feel small. I just don’t want to feel like a teacher is judging me if I hand in one assignment late or I forget the homework. I know it’s our ‘responsibility,’ but sometimes being responsible is so hard. You guys say it yourself, ‘Kids make mistakes, and their brains aren’t fully developed.’ When we come to school, we should have an outlet and not a place to be afraid of. Let us breathe.”
(Anonymous, Class of ‘24)

“There is a long way to go. Hills has made noticeable strides to address mental health amongst its students; however, gathering information across the student body, claiming that there are potential resources available, or offering reassurance that the conversation of mental health is an open one, are not necessarily the problem. The problem comes when results of said surveys or emails come back displaying warning signs and actually implementing those supposed resources becomes crucial. I’ve seen this on multiple occasions, and I think there just needs to be people involved who can truly take the action needed in times like these. Teachers and even guidance counselors are not trained in solving those more threatening problems, and that is okay, as long as there really is someone who can if that is being implied.”

(Anonymous, Class of ‘24)

What are your thoughts on a routine mental health day or a set number of days set aside for student absences with regard to mental health?

“I believe a routine mental health day or a set number of days for mental health would be amazing for both teachers and students. It gives everyone a chance to step away once in a while and take a breather when mixed up in a lot of different things. A lot of people are often struggling to keep up with the amount of work they receive, all while dealing with their lives outside of school, and it can be a lot at times.”

(Anonymous, Class of ‘22)The conversation surrounding students’ mental health and awareness as a whole are most definitely expanding and slowly being normalized, which is wonderful. However, continuing the dialogue is crucial because there is still such a long way to go. Given that teenagers spend the majority of their everyday lives at school, it is the place where there should be an even larger focus on providing assistance. As the mental well-being of younger generations is visibly declining, taking action is more important now than ever.