Mental Health at Grace High School is a very relevant topic that affects students’ academic lives. Although it is talked about often amongst the faculty, many students have yet to explore the many branches of Grace that offer help for those suffering from Mental Health Disorders. While the topic may appear to be designated as “behind the scenes,” many more students are affected by a school’s approach to Mental Health then one might expect. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, “Approximately one in five youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.” As school can often be an environment that increases stress, both socially and academically, it is crucial that students and faculty are aware of the issue and when to recognize it amongst their students in order to determine how to manage the matter.
This school year, many students have felt the increased rigor present in all academics. As the administration is working to intensify the challenge of the studies, as well as the grading system, it is quite clear that the Mental Health of students, particularly those with stress and anxiety will be affected. Nurse Vikki, the primary nurse at Grace commented on the underlying signs of Mental Health. She stated, “Physical health is connected to Mental Health. Often around times of stress, like college acceptances, students tend to complain about a headache, insomnia, stomach aches, which often show a clear mind and body health connection. Students synthesize their Mental Health problems in bodily issues.”
Although very apparent in today’s society, Mental Health is hard to distinguish and treat. Since opening, Grace has tried hard never to fail to address the needs of its students. The faculty and staff have created an inviting and comfortable atmosphere that allows for the students to be open about their struggles, both in and outside of school. Mr. Chan and Mrs. Walker, two of the schools’ counselors, work closely with Grace’s teachers as well as the Safe Space Advocates, a testament to the schools’ proactivity to ameliorate student problems that arise. Whenever a teacher notices a student straying from their normal academic or social tendencies, depending on the severity, they will bring it to one of the counselors so that the irregularity can be helped. Because Mental Health varies, being able to detect it as well as devote one’s time and effort will significantly help the student in school and everyday life. “We holistically approach Mental Health. The school counselors, teachers, family and occasionally outside help, all come together to tackle the problem at hand,” stated Mr. Chan.
It is imperative to the counseling team that confiding in them is entirely a student’s choice. Unless there is a significant instance where a student needs immediate attention, all matters concerning the counselors come directly from the students. Depending on the student and their particular Mental Health needs, meetings can be made, ranging from weekly check-ups to unscheduled drop-ins. “The student usually dictates how the sessions will go based on how they are feeling in the moment. There have been times when students have come to me feeling overwhelmed and anxious, so we might play a board game or organize their work schedule. My job is to make the students feel calm and confident in both their academic and social lives,” Mr. Chan added.
Not every high school in New York is fortunate enough to have two professional counselors. Schools that are more than twice our size, sometimes only have one counselor which makes it that much harder to ensure the students’ problems are being addressed. Mrs. Walker and Mr. Chan, are each assigned two grades that they follow through all four years of high school. This allows for the students to become familiarized and comfortable with one counselor which can allow for even more progress to be made. “I have worked at other schools where they did not take Mental Health seriously, or they did not have the proper resources to efficiently and effectively help. At Grace, the students are fortunate enough not to have to cope with Mental Health alone,” said Mr. Chan.
The response to Grace’s approach to Mental Health amongst the student body has been mostly positive. Tess DiMenna ‘20 shared, “Grace, especially, compared to lots of other private schools, is accommodating in terms of Mental Health. We have great resources, and teachers are helpful with extensions and other things if one needs some extra time.” In addition to student responses, Nurse Vikki noted, “If a student seems to be having a tough time with Mental Health, I think the school is pretty assertive in trying to help those kids. I think we are pretty good at identifying things that need to be addressed.” It appears that Grace has made specific improvements over the last couple of years on how faculty and administration were facing the issue of Mental Health amongst the students. Nurse Vikki continued, “We have become way more aware over the years of academic stress. The biggest thing is this seemingly serious increase in anxiety, which is very much on our radar now. Since I have been here in the past three and a half years, Mental Health has become a central issue.” Tess DiMenna ‘20 agreed that improvement was clear in the most recent year at the school. She declared, “I have found the school very helpful in regards to Mental Health, especially this year.”
Although Grace, compared to other schools, has provided a well rounded Mental Health program it does fall short in several areas. Evelyn Ward ‘21 commented that “ Grace has a problem with latching onto kids and putting a tag on them which I feel is not helpful. It dismisses my identity, and it limits my involvement with my mental health which does not help me in the long run and leads to me not want to open up.” Often, Grace only focuses on students whose mental health disorders have been diagnosed instead of those who have yet to identify their problems. Without realizing one’s disorder and doing the proper research to understand it, a student can not begin to learn how to cope. This problem stems from the lack of mandatory Mental Health education for faculty, staff, and students. “Everyone at Grace needs to be educated about Mental Health illness further than mainstream depression and anxiety. There are so many different illnesses that are complex, and experiences vary between people. Grace needs to be more aware of the deeper illnesses. Being educated about this would enable better aid to students with Mental Illness,” Evelyn added.
Mental Health, arguably one of the most difficult to detect conditions, is only intensified with the daily pressures of academics. The counselors at Grace have become vital parts of the community helping students to understand and manage their needs. In just a short amount of time Grace has effectively built a welcoming, all-encompassing school whose faculty and staff is equipped to detect any unusual behavior as well as take the necessary steps in order to help their students. Trying to disguise any Mental Health issue will only continue to make the problem worse. Reaching out for help, although hard at first, will be nothing but beneficial and will allow every student to reach their full academic potential.