This article is a part of the Humans of OHS project, which involves a series of stories
about the faces and perspectives that often go unseen at Oswego High School. All articles were written by students in Ms. Hands’s 21st Century Journalism class. Additional articles in the series will be posted here.
I round the door of sophomore Xania Kimberly Ward’s classroom and see that she is alone, silent, on her phone. In fact, as I glance around while walking toward her, the whole classroom is silent and on their phones.
“Can we do this out in the hall?” she asks, seemingly a little bashful.
In the hall, it’s the kind of beige that you might see in a mental institution, not provoking any certain feeling, but still a little off. The fluorescent lights are a harsh white that gives you a headache if you glance up for too long—they don’t make up for the fact that any involved high schooler forgot what sunlight felt like a while ago.
“ could be doing a lot better from my personal experience,” Ward says. She is specifically referring to how the staff handles mental health.
The older generation that teaches youth today grew up with massive amounts of bullying, social struggles and identity crises, as shown in classic movies from their era like The Breakfast Club. The new generation is much more accepting of their peers, embracing things like the LGBT community and promoting movements such as the Love Your Body campaign. We’re left wondering if the difference between these two cultures makes it hard to provide the tools that students need to be successful in a modern-day high school. The internal battles that they face are with their own mental health.
“You know, every teenager in this school has got some form of depression or anxiety; it’s impossible not to,” Ward says.
While this “every teenager” may be an exaggeration, the number of high school students suffering from mental health issues is surprisingly high. A group of students at New York University examined top high school students in 2015, mainly focusing on stress that “commonly leads to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.” The study found that “nearly half (49 percent) of all students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis and 31 percent reported feeling somewhat stressed.”
For those students who have mental health problems, there is help available at school in Student Services, where they can meet with guidance counselors and school psychologists, but the effectiveness of those meetings isn’t always guaranteed.
“You have to make appointments for the guidance counselors and the social workers, and they limit those appointments…and then they send you back to class, and I don’t know if that’s actually beneficial to anyone,” Xania says, later stating that she’s “been in appointments with my counselor several times, and last year he kinda rushed me out of the door, and I’ve seen that with other people—they’ve been rushed out the door.”
“You know, every teenager at this school has got some form of depression or anxiety; it’s impossible not to.”
Currently, there are 2,603 students enrolled at Oswego High School, but for all students at any grade level or need, only a small amount of counselors and social workers are available to make appointments on a daily basis. It’s really no surprise that there is a struggle for those counselors to meet with students for a time slot that is both useful and short.
“As much as we are there for counseling students and dealing with mental health, we also have other parts of our job,” school psychologist Nisa Gabbidon says. “Our department is as big as it can be for a school this large.” The student services department deals with a multitude of subjects, all attempting to help students. However, with the recent budget cuts, it’s even more difficult than it was before to expand the department.
In a school where isolation is frequent, hostility becomes common. Resources are scarce and won’t be growing any time soon. The teachers and students need to band together to combat mental health problems.