“It’s almost impossible to explain to someone what it feels like to struggle with mental health. Many people thought they knew what I was going through and made assumptions about me, which was really hard. I thought about killing myself a lot, and would Google ways of how to, but I never had it in me to go through with it.” says Claudia, who was diagnosed with depression her junior year of high school.
*Names have been changed to maintain anonymity.
Mayo Clinic defines mental health as “A person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.” A mental disorder is defined to be “A behavioral or mental pattern that may cause suffering or a poor ability to function in life.”
There are numerous ways that different disorders will affect various people. Students who partook in the survey or were interviewed are learning to deal with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts or attempts, self harm, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and many more. This survey was posted on various social media accounts, allowing students of any grade and time to answer them.
From just the 36 Oyster River High School students who took the online anonymous survey from September 27-29th this year, 48.6% have been diagnosed by a doctor with a mental disorder. 60% of students have skipped school do to their mental health. 48.6% of students have considered harming themselves or committing suicide and 20% have turned to drugs and/or alcohol to try to cope with their mental disorder. 60% do not agree that ORHS has enough of an outreach for those who struggle with mental health issues. These statistics only represent a very small portion of the community.
Mental health is a topic that many people have shied away from discussing for fear of being seen as weak, a victim, or that somehow something is wrong with them.
“I have been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They aren’t sure what causes it but what I’ve read says that it’s a chemical in the brain that puts you into fight or flight way too often. So people with OCD see things making them anxious and feel the compulsive need to act on it. I’ve never taken any medication but have been going to therapy since 5th grade finding ways to manage it. I have also been diagnosed with depression. Depression and anxiety often run hand in hand. I mainly look to natural options (in example, essential oils) to calm myself when I’m having a panic attack”, says Claudia.
Students with a cast or concussion are excused from missing school while others with a mental disorder are expected to show up without an exception. Although the concept of a mental health day seems reasonable to some, missing school may induce more stress in others as they are forced to spend time worrying about the work they will have to make up rather than their personal health.
“I have had to skip school for my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and it sucks because it counts against my absences even though it’s a mental condition”, says Joyce.
A mental health disorder left undiagnosed, untreated, or ignored may lead to complete feelings of hopelessness and despair, and in the worst case for a student to contemplate, attempt, or commit self harm or suicide.
“I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression. I went to a therapist and took prescription drugs to help cope. I missed a ton of school because the people made me anxious and I didn’t want to leave my house in the first place. It was really hard, and I began to cut myself. I became addicted to cutting myself because it made me focus on the physical pain instead of the mental pain. Cutting yourself is similar to becoming addicted to drugs, and it’s very hard to stop”, says Claudia.
Jennie suffers from testing anxiety. “During the assessments, I would feel fine until I hit even the slightest bump in the road. Once I do, I freak out. I would think along the lines of if I don’t get this right, I’m never getting into a good college, I won’t get a good job, and I’ll become an absolute loser. After the freak out, that’s when everything gets all jumbled around in my head.”
The feeling of depression due to failures is like gravity in a way: once something starts to fall, “It only accelerates downwards with nothing to hold it back”, explains Jennie.
Forced to face these feelings, different students will adopt different coping methods.
“I relied a lot on my friends when I was really messed up, which I think was hard for them because they didn’t really know what to do”, says Joyce. “I recommend finding someone who has the training to help you and you enjoy talking to. I’m the kind of person who won’t go talk to someone if I’m being forced to, it has to be my decision and that’s how I found my therapist, who I like to say pretty much saved me.
Students often try to self-medicate. “Coping with my anxiety is challenging, and I can’t really say I’ve found many methods that actually help. Often, I end up doing things that I enjoy like listening to music or running, things that occupy my thoughts and help me redirect my focus”, says Micaela.
Jennie has also attempted to cope by herself. “I have tried focusing on other things when I sense myself starting to freak out, but it’s really hard….I usually would end up chewing gum, exercising, blatantly procrastinating anything possible, and going without eating just to feel like I could control something.”
Joyce is a student who sought help while in school, and is now graduated and able to focus fully on recovery and doing what she loves. She offered advice for any students who may be struggling with self harm and encouraged them to find someone to talk to.
“Something that helped me to stop cutting was I would draw a butterfly over whatever part of my body I cut and name it after someone I love. When I thought about cutting, I would remember that person and how I would never want to hurt them”, says Joyce.
By joining the campaign Change Direction, Oyster River High School has taken a more active stance. Students are encouraged to learn the five major signs that show one may have a mental disorder: personality change, agitated, withdrawal, poor self-care, and hopelessness. After recognizing a sign, the campaign teaches people to “show compassion and caring and a willingness to find a solution when the person may not have the will or drive to help him- or herself.” ORHS is one of the first schools across the nation to join this campaign, hoping to raise awareness about the once silent issue.
If you or someone you know if struggling with any sort of mental illness, it is encouraged that you confide in someone you trust to help you or the other person recover. There is no shame in speaking up for yourself or even “telling” on someone. You may indeed save a life.
Editor’s note: The earlier version of this article did not state the specifics of the survey taken. Changes have been made to the article.
Written by Jane Robinson and Megan Wu