“People are more aware of what the symptoms are. They are starting to realize that if they’re withdrawn or unmotivated for example, it could be linked to a mental illness”, says Washington counselor, Dean Blanchard.
Blanchard believes that mental health awareness is growing, especially among young people. According to Mental Health America, mental illness among younger generations are increasing. The problem with this is, most youth are still left without treatment .
“In my experience, I’ve seen parents who don’t want to believe that their child may be struggling with a mental illness. These parents think that something like depression or anxiety is something you can ‘snap out of’”, said Blanchard. “Situations like that only further the stigma that comes along with mental illness.”
Although Blanchard isn’t a doctor, he, along with the other counselors here at WHS, will refer a student to resources that may be able to help them in a way that a school counselor can’t. “Students are getting involved”, says Blanchard. “Students are trying to help students get the help that they may need through a ‘Green Bandana Project.’”
The “Green Bandana Project” enables students to know how to help others with a mental illness or those who suspect that they may have a mental illness. The idea is that volunteer students will be trained through Foundation 2 to identify what particular resources would be beneficial for differing students’ situations. These volunteer students will wear a green bandana on their backpack as a sign to everyone around them that they can help you with finding resources if you’re not comfortable confiding in an adult.
Aside from the up and coming “Green Bandana Project”, Blanchard thinks that we as a school can do more to destigmatize mental illness. One way that students and staff can make a difference is by watching what they say and how they say it.
In the hallways, it’s not uncommon that you’ll hear students joking about being depressed or saying, “haha I’m going to kill myself,” because they might be anxious about a test next hour. However, these interactions are negative and unnecessary. In order for mental health to be taken seriously instead of disregarded as a joke, students must stop using negativity as the punchline.
Not only does mental illness have an impact on young people, it can affect everyone. For example, Pete Clancy, a teacher at Wash, has always been open to his students about mental illness and how it affects him. Clancy is currently taking a leave of absence for the remainder of the school year due to his mental health. In order to cover his absence, teachers Michael Moran and Angela Harger have stepped in to cover Clancy’s AP courses. “Change like this can and has been very stressful for many students, but ultimately all we can do is continue to give our best effort. A handful of students have come up to me and expressed concern for the rest of the year or expressed concern about my well-being and I’ve done my best to talk them through the situation. My goal is to make this transition as smooth as possible for all students”, said Moran.
Amy Jones, teaches AP Psychology and is a close friend of Pete Clancy, had a lot to say regarding the logistics of mental illness. “Despite the increasing prevalence of mental illness, people think we are in complete control of our thoughts and emotions, but science tells us differently. When we understand how the brain works, you’ll know that the brain builds ‘muscle memory’. Thoughts that you think frequently turn into neurological connections and those thoughts become automatic. […] Despite how hard you’re trying to think happy thoughts, you can’t. Depression, for example, isn’t just situational. It’s genetic”, said Jones. By teaching the facts known about how mental illnesses work within her classroom, Jones believes that the students enrolled in her psychology classes try their best to use sensitive language while discussing topics such as mental illness. Jones believes that educating people about mental illnesses will help destigmatize it as a whole.
Overall, mental illness is not something to be taken lightly. “An estimated 3.1 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 12.8% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17”, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
As you walk through the hallways, think about how to get involved with the Green Bandana project, or if you need someone to talk to, you can always turn to one of our counselors here at Wash, or even a student that you can trust.