Teachers on Mental Health

How Our Teachers Here at West Ranch Deal with Mental Health Issues

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Through the decades, mental health has been gaining recognition as a major issue in teenagers’ lives.

In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, the average high school student today has the same level of anxiety as a psychiatric patient in the 1950s. Mental wellbeing is something that cannot be ignored or pushed aside as it has a wide range of influence on a student’s life.

However, teenagers spend half the day in school learning, competing and being graded. How exactly does school play into students’ mental health?

Mrs. Povletich, a psychology teacher, Ms. Chang, the future instructor of a wellness class here at West Ranch, and Ms. Sage, a health teacher, spoke about mental health through the perspective of an educator.

 

Q: Mental health is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being that is often emphasized by the youth today. What does it mean for you as an adult and as an educator?

Mrs. Povletich: I think that’s a good definition of mental health. It’s really about our overall well-being and finding balance between home, school, work, relationships, and all the other activities and emotions we have going on. Stress can easily weigh us down, but finding ways to intentionally focus on our own mental health and staying positive can go a long way in avoiding more significant issues.

Ms. Chang: As an adult, I would agree that it is the same thing. Mental health is not something that changes by definition because we age. Though the areas that influence our mental health generally remains the same, the weight and amount of influence these areas have changes over time and through experiences.

Ms. Sage: Health is a multi-faceted thing. It is not only physical, but mental, emotional, social, spiritual and environmental. If a student is having mental health issues, it affects all aspects of their life.

 

Q: A lot of students these days associate their stress and poor mental health with school and the educational system itself. Do you think they put too much blame on it rather than their own upbringing and lifestyle outside of it? Or is their blame justified?

Mrs. Povletich: I think it’s difficult to blame one source for student stress and mental health. Yes, students face significant pressure to achieve based on college admissions standards, but that really is only one part of the equation. So, often, that stress comes from parent expectations or even the student’s own expectations. Much of it is how students manage their stress. In my experience, students do not take the time they should to get enough sleep and exercise which can have a significant impact on managing their mental health. Students also need to reflect on what’s important to them and what their long-term goals are.

Ms. Chang: This is a difficult question to answer because there are so many things that make up the whole child. Family, friends, life experiences, and personality give each individual a unique perspective. So school may contribute significantly to one person’s stress, while not at all to another’s. However, when school gains an unhealthy leverage on the stress-level of a student, you have to look at all other areas of that student’s life to see what is off-balance or unhealthy. This is not to say our education system is perfect, nor that students’ stress associated with school is not founded. It is to recognize the importance of balance and overall wellness, which is key to having a healthier perspective, not a perfect and trouble-free one, just healthier.

Ms. Sage: I think one of the biggest reasons that students are experiencing excessive stress and poor mental health is because they don’t have the tools or know how to deal with stress. I believe, also, that parents often “rescue” their child when the child is in trouble or stressing out, so the child grows up rarely being held accountable for learning how to deal with difficult situations.

 

Q: There have been many movies and TV shows that circulate around mental health which often have a lot of influence. Do you think these are portrayed accurately? If not, what would you change about them?

Mrs. Povletich: That’s a tough question. If you are talking about actual mental illness, then I would say no. Movies and TV shows generally do not portray them accurately because their focus is on approval ratings more than it is on accuracy. I think there is something to be gained by watching TV and movies about mental illness because it makes us more aware, but I would hope it would raise curiosity and encourage a person to research further. If students really want to increase their own knowledge about mental health, they should focus more on documentaries, books, and reliable online sources rather than just TV shows and movies.

Ms. Chang: Movies and TV shows are meant to entertain. The influence that they gain is because there are people out there who agree with what they see. Many times, it is because the movies and shows validate their feelings or in some way create a perspective that is desirable. Do I think they are always accurate? No. Do they do what they intended to do, which is entertain and gain an audience? Yes, that is why they can influence people. What would I change? I don’t know if it is a matter of “changing” anything, but I would love to see multiple angles of the mental health issues we deal with today. I think the more informed we are, the more opinions and perspectives we can gain, the greater our understanding on how to tackle this phenomenon and help those who are struggling.

Ms. Sage: Many of these shows are based on true life events, so for the most part, they are portrayed accurately.  I appreciate that they bring a difficult topic to the attention of society.

 

Q: Sometimes, approaching a kid about their mental health would lead them to embarrassment and further seclusion. How would or how do you approach a student with a mental health illness?

Mrs. Povletich: I am a psychology teacher, but I am not a trained psychologist. If I’m concerned about a student’s mental health, I’m going to contact their counselor or the school psychologist which is what I would encourage students to do for themselves or their friends. In my class, students have opportunities to privately share about their mental health concerns and issues, but I would always seek guidance from a professional before addressing anything with a student directly. I want students to feel comfortable talking to me, but they should also know that I am not a therapist.

Ms. Chang: Relationships. If I am going to have any serious conversation with a student, it would be silly of me to think I can do that without having some relationship of trust and honesty with them first. Assuming that foundation is there, I would check in with them periodically and just keep an eye out. If I felt I needed to do more than that, I would discreetly ask them more specific questions. However, I think I establish a fairly positive rapport with most of my students that allows for me to do so without making it embarrassing for them.

Ms. Sage: When I approach a student who has an mental health issue, I do so with the utmost amount of confidentiality and love. I want them to understand that I understand.  I want them to know that I only want the very best for them. I will help a student as much as they need me to help them.

 

Both students and teachers want the best possible environment to learn, discuss and deal with issues regarding mental health. School, with its competition and GPA-crazed students, is undoubtedly a factor for distraught or stressed students. Mental health is affected by our education system even among other outside factors.

However, these three teachers have shown the unseen side of how an educator works to ensure mental wellbeing of the student body. The weight and responsibility they carry to take that extra step and care for their students should not be pushed aside.

Schools cannot be left out of the conversation of mental health, but it is important to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem and the situations where school is not the lone reason for mental instability.

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