Anthony Vasek, Photo Editor
27th October, 2022
We go to the doctor’s office for everything that seems off: weird rashes, spots, aches, cramps, and, of course, those pesky yearly check-ups that pull you out of school.
You get your height and weight marked down, your blood pressure taken, your pupils dilated, the doctor asks how many drugs you’ve done recently… And then you’re free to go.
But do those check-ups really cover all aspects of what you might be struggling with health-wise?
Mental health often goes unnoticed, and those affected can feel particularly hopeless and unseen.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, where we try to bring awareness to people suffering from mental health issues and unite them with community support and resources.
I sat down with a few medical professionals within our school community to learn more.
“Mental health is as important as physical health,” Arcata High’s school nurse John Kell said.
It’s sometimes difficult to remember that the brain itself–and by extension, our thoughts, feelings, and emotions inside–is an organ that we must nurture and maintain.
“The relationship between our minds and our bodies is a continuum, not two [separate] things,” Kell explained.
COVID-19 affected us. Lack of socialization, routine, and exercise coupled with loss and sickness within many of our lives.
While it may seem scary to watch the number of teenagers screening positive for depression rise from 5.0% to 6.2% post-pandemic according to the CDC, it may also be a sign of positive change.Maybe the rates aren’t increasing, but the access to help and diagnosis is.
During the pandemic, we turned to the internet to keep our lives going.
Every aspect of our routine transferred from reality into the digital world.
Therapists, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors–all of these medical professionals who would sit with dozens of patients every week moved their appointments from couches to Zoom and Telehealth meetings.
“All of these resources popped up online that weren’t easy to access before,” Kell said.
He recalled the boom of online resources in the beginning of the pandemic.
People struggling with their mental health no longer had to venture out into their local, school, and/or interpersonal communities for help, but could log onto any computer and begin chatting with a doctor.
“A lot of times people want an outside, non-judgemental opinion,” Judith Fraser said, the school’s psychology intern.
It surely becomes easier to ask for help when help is made readily available, and even easier when it is made anonymous.
According to the JAMA Network, 37% of high schoolers reported feeling frequent depressive symptoms throughout quarantine.
“I haven’t gotten to talk to anyone professionally about [my mental health struggles] yet,” one student* told me.
They cited their father’s unsupportiveness as the main reason they’ve been unable to take steps towards help, such as counseling or medication.
“He just doesn’t believe me […] And it’s not just laziness. Laziness doesn’t exist. There’s always a reason.”
In contrast, another student* has two parents in the medical field. “I’m glad to say that I have a super helpful, supportive family […] It’s like a you’ll-always-have-a-shoulder-to-cry-on-type-of-thing,” she said.
She recalled first realizing she might have anxiety in middle school and confiding in her Mom about it, who supported her in finding therapy and other healthy coping mechanisms.
“It’s something I think about a lot–how much worse my life would be without them.”
Students with supportive, encouraging family and friends are much less likely to feel ashamed or embarrassed about their struggles.
“I think it’s really important to avoid comparing yourself to others,” a student* who has been hospitalized for mental health reasons a few times told me.
He had refused to reach out for help for years until he finally had a failed suicide attempt.
“It’s hard because people don’t always feel like they’re rooting for your recovery. You feel like you’re too sick to be around the normal people but not sick enough to be around the sick people. It can be isolating,” he said.
Arcata High School does have a large number of staff who are more than willing to listen and, if necessary, help out however they can.
Eileen Klima is the school’s Crisis Counselor.
She guides students through all sorts of situations, individual and relationship-related issues.
She can help to connect students to further support and resources outside and inside of our school.
Kell is the school’s nurse. Besides being the best place on campus to receive medical attention, his office is always available for any student to come lay down and take a mental break in.
He’s always there to listen and do what he can to support those on campus.
You can see Kell and Klima at any point in the day.
Ask your teacher to write you a pass and head down to either of their offices, which can be accessed through the front desk of the principal’s office.
Arcata High also has a great number of classroom teachers and administrative staff who partake in crisis training every year.
It is always an option to talk to any of these trusted adults on campus.
“In the end, it’s always better to bring up the fact that you care than to pretend not to,” Fraser said.
She encouraged students to reach out to friends and family members they love, “even if it makes someone uncomfortable.”
*Names have been censored to protect privacy