Uni students, like any other students, have a variety of mental health problems, but students say that Uni’s competitive environment makes it hard to admit any mental health problems they might have for fear of being perceived as weak.
Some students believe that Uni is not the place for people with mental health issues as they fear that accommodations for those students will lessen the academic rigor of the school. Those who have mental health issues are familiar with this sentiment and often feel judged because of it.
Around 20 percent of American adolescents aged 13-18 are living with some mental health condition, and many more suffer from declining mental health as a result of school related and social stressors. Despite the prevalence of these mental health issues, students find that when they try to talk about their mental health with teachers or other students, they are met with a less than understanding response.
Junior Ema Rajic expressed a fear of bringing up her mental health problems in conversation, saying, “I feel like if I talk about it out loud, people will shut me down or people will say, ‘Oh, well maybe you’re not mentally strong enough to handle the dumb*ss competition of the school.’ or whatever. There’s a fear of being judged for being affected by something like that.”
Students mentioned that they felt that Uni also was generally uninformed about mental health. Rajic said that her fellow students hold lots of misconceptions about common problems like anxiety, depression, and ADHD. She’s heard many people say things like depression is just being whiny or ADHD and anxiety are not “real” disorders.
“It’s an ignored issue. I think it’s probably stigmatized, too. I don’t know the details of a lot of people’s mental health issues but I think it’s more common than we assume,” says junior Ellie Breen about the lack of mental health awareness at Uni.
“Uni’s environment could be a lot better at promoting mental health awareness and resources because a lot of students are struggling but they don’t wanna come down [to the SSO] because they think it’s a weakness or they think it’ll make them look like they’re less deserving of being here,” counselor Janai Rodriguez said.
These concerns that students often have are not unfounded, as other students can look down on their peers for mental health issues. “Mental illnesses, they affect your brain and they change you. If you’re born without an arm you may have trouble with basketball, if you have a mental illness you may have trouble keeping up,” junior Jared Rosenbaum said as to why they thought Uni wasn’t the place for people struggling with mental health.
Rodriguez and her fellow counselor Kristi Bandy felt that it was hard to facilitate dialogue about mental health with Uni students. The counselors saw that Uni students generally had an apathetic attitude about Junior-Senior Health Seminars, where the counselors discuss with the upperclassmen aspects of health such as sexuality, organization, etc, and mentioned that it’s very difficult to organize Uni period talks because there’s so much going on every day.
Breen says that while she thinks teachers and coaches and other authorities will accommodate you if you have a specific mental health issue, she thinks in general that teachers don’t think much about their students’ mental health.
Uni’s Student Services Office (SSO) doesn’t have a lot of internal resources for students struggling with their mental health, but they are able to do more in-depth work with a student and possibly refer them to a private therapist or another agency.
“Uni’s viewed as an environment where everyone talks and nothing’s confidential,” Rodriguez mentioned about students feeling like they can’t just come down to the SSO and talk about their problems.
Both Rodriguez and Bandy mentioned other schools having student support groups for students to help deal with anxiety, stress, or other common struggles but said that these would be difficult to implement at Uni because of Uni’s environment.
Rodriguez says many mental health problems can come from the high standards that Uni students are held to. Parental and internal pressure about academics can weigh on students a lot. Bandy mentioned that the SSO has even discussed the possibility of making all courses pass-fail so that students wouldn’t equate their self worth with a letter grade. Eliminating stress is impossible and not necessarily the best option, but the SSO wants to support students more so they are better prepared to manage stress.
“The climate of Uni, and not necessarily the teachers themselves putting this pressure, the allure of Uni, getting in and having this coveted spot or just the environment that students perpetuate with “oh, I have to be the best” or “only these colleges are acceptable.” I think it does produce an environment that causes lots of mental health issues,” Rodriguez said.
The counselors are working to bring about more discussion of mental health among other things. There is the possibility of the formation of intra-class groups sometime in the future that can function as support systems for kids as they make their way through Uni. They wish to facilitate more conversation with parents and teachers to help make the students’ experiences better overall.
Mental Health Fact Sheet