For the first time I can remember, my last annual physical included several mental health screening questions to gauge my emotional state.
I can’t remember exactly what the questions were. Good thing they weren’t about memory. But one was along the lines of not wanting to get out of bed, and the other ranked my personal mental health on a scale of 1 to 10.
My understanding was that my answers were satisfactory, but to tell the truth, I would rather have answered questions than a nurse, followed up with my doctor, who was asked context and whom I have seen and trusted for years. staff I have never seen before.
The thing is, mental health issues feel very personal to me, perhaps more so than physical issues. I would have no problem discussing insomnia, high blood pressure, or other issues that come up during the physical exam. Even with screening questions, I’m not very adept at getting a stranger inside my head, so to speak.
I think it’s more patient comfort than relying on qualified professionals. Now, before anyone jumps to any conclusions, all is well in the attic and I am blessed to have good health and a wonderful physician. For as long as I can remember, every visit I make to the office ends with him praying for me. Heck, I might come over there to pray one day.
The broader issue here is mental health and how it’s still a taboo topic. So let me start with a few requests:
First, can we find a way to dedicate more mental health resources to public schools? This is not to criticize someone who already has boots on the ground, just to suggest that more people, more help and more training could go a long way.
This may sound stale to some, but school is a difficult place for many children. Primary school has its own challenges as young children socialize, make friends, and deal with structure and boundaries. Secondary school (personal experience) is the hardest. Children are going through life changes and maturing faster, partly due to peer pressure and the ubiquity of social media. Then comes high school, where it is very important to adapt in the eyes of peers and in terms of self-confidence.
Now, multiply everything by the pandemic and what’s happened to everyone in the past few years.
It’s no surprise, but kids are bullied, abused and battered. Some naturally have a hard time making friends. Others do not feel the need to be part of a social circle. Everyone goes through tough seasons, but some may not come out the other way, and these are teenagers who may need access to mental health resources.
While we’re here, let’s go ahead and strengthen mental health resources at public colleges and universities. Talking to the class I helped teach at Texas Tech for the last time this semester, I asked him what first semester he was a junior (five semesters of college). A scattered number of hands went up around the room. These are students who don’t yet know a COVID-19-free college semester.
Wondering why stress rates are on the rise? Why do anxiety levels rise? Why are suicides increasing among young people? Why have addiction and overdose deaths increased? Why has alcohol use increased? It’s not just a deal where life is made difficult. It was life and death, and people are trying to ease their suffering. Teens have lost loved ones or know friends they had. Whether they were third year or sophomore in college, their world was turned upside down to some degree. Navigating the entrances and exits of school will always be more difficult for some children than others.
I hope mental health resources in public schools and universities will draw attention in the upcoming legislative session. I hope this is a topic of conversation in Austin and these advocates continue to raise awareness and raise alarm.
I’m afraid we don’t listen even if the alarm goes off. It seems like we need to be more proactive without stigmatizing people about their mental health. We’ve made improvements here. No more arched eyebrows or smart side glances when talking about one’s sanity. The topic is no longer forbidden, thanks to the efforts of tennis player Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles.
Now we need to encourage young people who might struggle to discuss their feelings with someone they trust. My parents said a long time ago that I could tell them anything, and I believed it. We told our children the same thing.
Still, it’s not just parents who can play this important role. Youth sports coaches spend a lot of time around teenagers and are adept at noticing changes in demeanor. The same is true for school personnel. Classroom teachers, like librarians and other staff who spend their days interacting with students, are extremely observant. Youth pastors and youth group leaders and life counselors are also key.
All these people are already showing care and compassion for the young people in their sphere of influence. Please talk to someone about how you feel and why you think you feel that way. You will not be judged and you will not be ignored.
However, you may need a professional to help you work through whatever you’re feeling. And that’s okay. Hopefully, the belief that seeking counseling or seeing a therapist is some sort of sign of weakness has dissipated. Not. Allowing someone else to enter your warped world is a sign of power.
Still, many people withdraw into their own silence and decide, for whatever reason, to keep everyone at a distance, but the best way to get through anything, no matter how hard, is to reach out and take what’s outstretched. to you.
Because someone is always reaching.
Doug Hensley is associate regional editor and director of commentary for Avalanche-Jounal.