The price we pay when “I’m fine” isn’t true, and “just fine” isn’t good enough.

An account from a high school student who doubled as a peer therapist.

“My school is a place where “I’m fine” carries behind it a torrent of pain and anguish.  In my time there, I learned how to balance chemical equations, solve linear differentials, and be a therapist.  That last part was a responsibility I was never well equipped to handle.  Since it was easy to talk to me, I was trusted with a lot of secrets.  It always hurt when I couldn’t find the right words to console friends of mine who told me that their lives aren’t worth living anymore.  It was disorienting to see people who are so talented, smart, kind, and exude so much positive energy, claim that they have no reason to keep existing.  It’s also heartbreaking when all you can do is sit, and listen.

My story is not as deep, heavy, or sad as the many I’ve heard from within the halls of my school, but it’s worth sharing.  There is a reason I absolutely respect the teachers I had at school. I did not have the strongest communication with my parents growing up, so finding adults I can come to for advice was difficult.  I met a teacher who took a few moments out of the day to make sure I was doing okay.  She always managed to have time to talk one on one with me.  Often times I felt she was more of a mother to me than my actual mother.  She went out of her way to make sure I knew that I was an individual who mattered in this world and inspired me to be a source of good for my peers.  She helped me out of a very negative time in my life. There are so many teachers I have had that go out of their way to make their students feel appreciated and create a small sense of levity in the constant waves of stress that seems to crash down onto the students every day.  They give up their lunch to make sure a student finishes a concept, allow students a safe place to share their feelings, and make sure that students understand they are valued.  But they’re not trained psychologists.

Current counselors take a caseload of hundreds of students and school psychologists oversee thousands.  Finding students the readily available help that they need is something that is really challenging given the limited number of trained staff on campus.  There are simply so many stories to process and so many students to attend to.  The counselor’s office goes from a place one goes for safe discussion to a conveyor belt of temporary help for long term issues.  Students may feel “broken” for needing the extra help dealing with their own minds.  Having students wait for overburdened school counselors or days for the school psychologist to return to campus makes their problems escalate further and their trust in the few supports in the school system diminish even further.  They become less likely to confide in others, and no one hears their story until it becomes too late.

Mental health is an issue that isn’t addressed as much as it should, especially when suicide has been the second leading cause of death in teenagers.  I have met too many students who have told me that it is normal to contemplate killing yourself at some point in school.  Quite frankly, I’m tired of it.  We do not expect the bare minimum from our teachers or our students, so why do lawmakers provide skeletal staffing ratios for school counselors and psychologists?”

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