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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The dangers of stigmas against mental health in our community

“Ask for help.”

It seems like the easiest thing in the world to request of a person. If you need help, then ask for it.

What people tend to forget is that admitting that you need help is a scary thing, mostly because of stigmas that have been perpetuated for decades. Mental health has become a taboo topic in our society —  and now, many people feel ashamed to admit that they might be suffering from a mental illness.

Following Speak Up For Change Week in January, mental health has become an even more pressing matter than before. Students are realizing that it is not uncommon for their peers to suffer from mental illnesses, whether it be anxiety, depression or any other variation.

One of the major topics that seemed to be constantly said every few minutes during the student assembly was that there are always people there to help if students ever need it, and we at Saratoga High are very lucky to have an administration that has become so proactive about mental health.

In fact, the school has gone out of its way to provide top-notch guidance counselors, Counseling and Support Systems for Youth (CASSY) counselors, and student groups such as Common Roots and Sources of Strength. With this array of resources, it seems inconceivable that students still feel alone. Right?

Wrong.

The school has done its part, but now it’s up to students  to take care of each other by making the school a place where those suffering from problems feel safe to seek help, and this can only start once biases and misconceptions about mental illness have left our halls.

First, it is important to understand the nuances of mental illness and how they can affect a person. One of the scariest things about having a mental illness is the fear of judgment. Many people avoid telling their friends and family that they are struggling for fear of being looked down upon or treated differently.

Social stigmas related to mental health are arguably one of the biggest problems facing high schoolers today, as they deter many students from receiving the help that they need.

It is not the fault of any one person that these stigmas exist. Many of us have simply accepted biases that were passed down from previous generations.

The biggest concept that these stigmas perpetuate is the idea that mental illness is voluntary. Too often, phrases like “snap out of it” or “be a man” are directed at teenagers who are going through a rough time. The truth is,it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers and pushing  feelings away.

On our campus, CASSY is sometimes treated as a joke. Often times, students will refer their friends to the center as a practical joke, or make flippant comments about someone “needing to go to CASSY because they’re clearly insane.” CASSY is an excellent resource for students to use, but because students believe that they will be ruthlessly made fun of if they seek help, they may not use it. And, of course, teasing from peers and friends will only worsen the problems that the person is going through.

What people need to realize is that mental illness is just that: an illness. If you have asthma, you can get an inhaler and try to avoid extreme exertion, but you’re still going to have asthma. Generally, people don’t receive criticism for having asthma. The same is true of mental illness. It is possible to get treatment from therapists and psychiatrists and there is the option of taking medication, but it won’t get rid of the illness.

It is crucial for our generation to change how people perceive mental health. The first step is being open about issues and talking through problems with friends and family.

We cannot ask the school to do any more in relation to educating students about mental health and providing several different resources for students with mental illness to use. Instead, it falls on the shoulders of each of us to do our part in creating a safe environment for those in need of support.

People with mental illnesses do not deserve to live in the shadows and they should not be afraid to ask for help. It is our job, as a community and as individuals, to help victims of mental illness to recover and bring them into the light.

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