mental health

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Finding growth in unlikely places:

MENTAL HEALTH and the quest for acceptance BY KARINA BLODNIEKS

“I felt like everyone else wouldn’t understand, so I didn’t speak out about it for a long time.”

Behind the fronts put on by many unassuming students, deeper issues plague minds - often invisibly. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 11.4% of U.S. teens age 12-17 have struggled with symptoms of a major depressive disorder. Our locality is not an exception to this trend; even in the halls of Cooper City High School, students mask personal strife. “It’s the worst feeling into world when your mind is pitted against you,” one unnamed student said. “It was hard to pinpoint what was bothering me. I felt like everyone else wouldn’t understand, so I didn’t speak out about it for a long time.” Stories like these, while unique, are not uncommon. These things are treatable, but the largest roadblock for many students is the simple act of speaking up. Spanish Teacher Lindsey Roberts believes stigma comes from a lack of understanding. “I think it’s hard to sympathize if you haven’t gone through it personally,” Roberts said. “Physical illness is a bit easier to understand, you can see what’s wrong, and you would never joke about a physical disability. That’s not the case for psychological problems, which are far less tangible.” What, then, is mental illness exactly? “A mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood,” writes the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.” The general understanding of mental illness at CCHS is largely misinformed. When asked the question, “what is mental illness?,” many students were unable to answer accurately. “If you have issues, you had a birth defect, or something during childhood or adulthood that took away some of your sanity I guess,” Sophomore Klaus Meiner said. The reality of the situation is that frequently, illnesses like depression and anxiety are not sparked by a specific event, and are rather just generalized, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A basic misunderstanding of what exactly mental illnesses are makes it hard for students to find the strength to speak up. “I tried initiating conversations about it, but [my friends] didn’t seem to understand,” one unnamed student said. “I’ve learned to accept that they can’t understand.” Despite a culture of silence, there are many resources for those who are struggling. World History Teacher Peggy Wilfong wants her students to know that she is there for them, and other faculty concur. “Often, [getting help is] one of two things,” Wilfong said. “In some cases, the person themselves realizes they are not coping, and seeks guidance, from a counselor, a friend or a family member. Otherwise, loved ones will notice a change in the person, and can guide them, and make recommendations.” CCHS is home to a family counselor and a school social worker, both of whom can be contacted in the front office. Teachers and students both have the ability to refer students to these school board professionals. The National Alliance on Mental Illness finds that the best way to find help is to speak up. This simple, empowering move can be the key to lifelong mental health.