The student news site of Shawnee Mission West High School

Beneath the Surface

More and more students every day are reaching out for help with mental health issues. Pressure that comes along with being a high school student as well as living through a global pandemic have caused a mental health crisis.

October 7, 2021

Beneath+the+Surface

Loss of motivation. Extreme nervousness. Looking to your future without a bit of hope. Feeling worthless and without purpose. Fatigue. Irritability for what seems like no reason. Weakness taking over your mind and body. All of these are symptoms of common mental illnesses within teenagers.

As junior Margo Eastland sat in her therapist’s office, she was told that she had officially been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. They gave her medication, but she soon realized that this chemical imbalance in her brain would stick with her for the rest of her life.

Senior Lauren Higgins was lost but she did not want to reach out for help. She figured that she could get through her illnesses on her own and that she had it better off than most people. She was embarrassed to want help.

There was social worker Mary Lea Kieffer, lost in her own grief. She had just lost her dad to cancer and now she and her husband of 14 years were getting divorced. She felt alone, lost and distraught.

These experiences are not uncommon, especially within the 12-18 age group. Approximately 1 in 5 people in this age group have been diagnosed with some kind of mental illness, the most common ones being depression and anxiety.

“There are so many additional pressures on students outside of school, we are seeing much more of an increase with mental illness, especially anxiety,” Kieffer said. These past couple of years have not only caused change but they have also caused many families to undergo hardships such as financial instability, death and more.

“It’s very common among teenagers these days just because of the world we live in currently,” Eastland said. 

It is not only because of the pandemic, though. Many high school students are undiagnosed, living with mental health issues that they cannot get help for. They get up early, come to school and feel forced to act like everything is okay when in reality, there is a constant battle happening within themselves. 

The continuous focus on trying to put on a happy face can get one distracted from things that need to be done. It is challenging to find motivation when struggling mentally. Eastland spoke of ways that she motivates herself when it gets difficult.

“If I’m having a tough time motivating myself to get things done, sometimes I will go to a coffee shop and get my work done there. After I’m done, I’ll usually get myself a cookie or something so it serves as a reward for being productive,” Eastland said. 

“My motivation to get good grades comes from wanting to succeed after high school,” Higgins said. 

But this isn’t as easy as it sounds. It can take a long time for someone to figure out what works for them to motivate themselves, and sometimes it seems impossible. Some nights are wasted, lying in bed, scrolling through social media; the intention of getting up and getting things done absent. 

Experiencing these symptoms affects day-to-day life. Talking to people, completing assignments and even simply taking care of personal hygiene and health seem like chores. They take a lot of mental energy that is not available to many. But that may be a sign to reach out for help.

“There are real issues that may need professional counseling, and that’s okay,” Kieffer said. Resources like counselors, social workers, and even a new therapy office are available to all students. Teachers are there to help. They do not enjoy seeing students struggling and feeling this way, so having a talk with any trusted adult may prove to be helpful.

“I was diagnosed with depression, generalized anxiety, and social anxiety. Getting through that was hard, but having a therapist helped me and depending on who you are, having a therapist can help,” Eastland said.

“To anyone struggling with mental health issues, get it out and if you don’t have anyone to talk to write it down,” Higgins said.

If no one is aware of a close friend or family member who is struggling, they won’t know to help. Coming to terms with the fact that professional help is needed is difficult. There are feelings of invalidation, feelings that this chemical imbalance will be able to go away by itself.

“I was embarrassed to want help,” Higgins said.

“It’s not a bad thing that you’re feeling this way, it’s just something that you may need to get a little extra help for,” Eastland said.

But what does this “extra help” do? What can it fix? Worthlessness and hopelessness may take over the mind, convincing one that they are not worth getting help and that this “help” won’t be able to fix something that has been a problem for so long.

“At first I don’t think I even wanted therapy to work, so it didn’t… You have to want to get better to actually get better,” Higgins said. 

The hardest thing can be bringing the mind to a place where it can accept help. The mind tells you that you don’t need it, or it can even tell you that you don’t deserve it. But there are times when it is needed, deserved, and can change perspective.

Besides counseling or even therapy, there are simpler things that can put one in a healthier mindset as well.

“I believe we need to look at where our strengths come from, it can be family, positive friends, healthy activities, or even volunteering and praying,” Kieffer said.

“Make sure you have time in your day to do stuff that is not related to school whether it’s reading, taking your dog for a walk, or exercising, it’s important to have at least an hour out of your day where you don’t have to think about school,” Eastland said. 

Taking time out of the day to do activities that help clear the mind is extremely important. It allows a sense of peace to come into the mind.

In a world that encompasses hate, it can be difficult to see the light. But it’s there beneath the surface.

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