The Dilemma of Mental Health Awarness

Graphic+by+Eleanor+Adams

Graphic by Eleanor Adams

Caitlin Hickey

After an anxiety-inducing week at Radnor High School due to midterm exams, there could not have been a better time for the school to host a Speak Up Event. Especially during the “Covid-Era,” it is difficult to find meaningful connections and systems of support. Over the years, several organizations and people have made a difference in society regarding the notion of mental health. As education on the subject improved, the stigma lessened. Individuals who suffer with anxiety or depression may feel alone and ashamed, but when others open up it normalizes these conditions. It is amazing to see the progress in society regarding mental health, but a dilemma does arise. The normalization of mental health has led to better treatment and more support systems, but with normalization also comes desensitization.

Since the late 1990’s,  the awareness of mental health in the United States has grown drastically. In the early 1800s the world lacked accurate, scientific knowledge of mental health and illness. Mental illness was something to be ashamed of, and people in need of medical attention were often shunned. Individuals struggling from serious conditions such as depression were seen as possessed Although there is still a stigma attached to mental illness, many more individuals feel comfortable enough to share their struggles. Today someone with depression can often live a normal life with proper medication and therapy. An anonymous freshman commented, “I have been struggling for years, but still feel like I have a good grasp on my school, sport and social life because of the support I have.” It is amazing to see society progress, especially in a way that is saving lives.

As students enter high school and the latter of their teen years, they are often exposed to real world issues. Individuals may begin to pay attention to poverty, gun violence, and pollution. Students may also start to experience the struggles of mental health, ranging from being stressed about a test to feeling depressed for weeks on end. Over the years, people have become more aware of how scholastic pressures can affect mental health, and Radnor has developed several support systems to support students. According to Radnor guidance counselor, Sierra Calaman, students’ “first line of defense” would be the five guidance counselors. These counselors are there to help students with not only academics but also life in general. If a student opens up about an issue they are having or a friend is having, the counselor may refer them or their friend to Student Assistance Program (SAP) as the next step. Once they are referred to SAP, students become eligible for counseling at the school. The school offers a in school therapy program called Lakeside Counseling with the mental health clinicians Jesse Roth and Niccole Zambrana. The school initially recommends six to eight weeks of this program, but students can stay in the program as long as they need. If students need a long-term solution that could aid them throughout all their years of school at Radnor, there is a psychologist that offers accommodations, educational evaluations, 504 plans, and IEPs.

All of the resources and support for those who struggle with mental health have had positive effects and have helped normalize mental health; however, this normalization has brought desensitization. Have you ever said to a friend that you were depressed, and they laughed and said “same”? This student was most likely feeling sad and responded to their friend in this way unintentionally, but it may have been damaging. An anonymous junior stated, “Yeah I think it’s great that mental health is more talked about today, but desensitization has definitely come with that. A lot of people talk about mental illnesses as if it can be attributed to common emotion.” It is not uncommon to have an encounter like this, as in some cases I have experienced people using  their mental health struggles to joke around. For example, I have often heard people say in a comical way “You can’t say that to me. I’m in therapy.” This may seem like a minor problem, but it leads to something far more serious. If mental health is discussed in this way, people may not feel validated or supported enough to open up about their mental health struggles. Our guidance counselor Sierra Calaman said she frequently has heard the phrase “I’m going to kill myself“ when a student is expressing frustration. Taking the topic of suicide and normalizing in this way is harmful and may lead to a serious misunderstanding if someone were to make this statement for real.  At Radnor, students feel pressure and stress all of the time and are very open about it. Students are constantly overwhelmed and often express that by using serious conditions to represent their state of mind. For example, if students are constantly referring to their nerves as panic attacks and a friend who was actually struggling poured their heart out to you, it may not seem like a big deal because it’s so common. 

The school, students and staff at Radnor High School need to join forces to stop the desensitization of mental health. It is important to be aware of the feelings we have, but we cannot blow them out of proportion or else we will fall ill to over exaggeration. The language we use to describe mental health needs to change before another person who is struggling suffers from the effects of it.