This series features current students living through the youth mental health crisis. These are their perspectives on school mental health as high school students in the U.S. This interview was between the Neolth team and a college student who would like to remain anonymous. Trigger warning: this interview contains mentions of self-harm.
Neolth: Why is mental health important to you?
Student:Mental health obviously affects my own wellbeing, but I know that if I don't make managing my own mental health a priority, it will start affecting my relationships with the people I care most about. I want to be able to have a healthy level of self-esteem and empathy so I can better process both my own emotions and the emotions of the people around me. As someone with diagnosed and medicated depression and anxiety, I have seen firsthand the toll it can take on my loved ones when I have been unable to function without an unhealthy level of support. Codependence was an issue I struggled with for a very long time, and the only way I was able to escape the cycle I had put myself in was to focus on bettering myself, pursuing therapy, and eventually pursuing a psychiatrist as well to start [taking] antidepressants. In recent years, I have made my own mental health my number one priority and encouraged my friends and family (particularly my parents) to do the same, to very positive results. Growing alongside them and breaking the cycles that had degraded our wellbeing in the first place has genuinely been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I know that my mental health will never be perfect, but as long as I maintain it at the same level of importance as I have in my life, I will be able to continue growing and thriving with the people I care about.
Neolth: What was your personal experience with mental health as a high-school student?
Student:My mental health in high school was extremely poor. I pursued therapy for a short time at the beginning of COVID, but without it being targeted towards focusing on processing my trauma rather than reliving it, I came out worse for it. My relationships with many of the people around me were incredibly turbulent, and I had resorted to cutting at one point because it was the only thing I knew at the time that could bring my anxiety back down and ground me. By the summer of my senior year, I had done significant damage to a number of friendships I was no longer able to maintain. Leaving high school and going to college definitely gave me an immense amount of relief since I finally had a new group of people to communicate and build relationships with.
Neolth: Did your high school offer mental health resources? What is/would be helpful vs unhelpful for them to offer?
Student:Our high school offered mental health resources, but they were very ineffectively implemented. We had a counselor available but outside of that, my school did not really promote anything. Sometimes certain students would get called for "random mental health" visits, but it was very obvious it was for students who had been reported to our school counselor out of concern (myself included at one point). Personally, most of my cohort quickly found out (small school), and it followed me around for the rest of high school. At the end of the day it personally did me more harm than good.
Neolth: How might you change the school system to better support young people’s mental health?
Student:At least in my experience, the pressure that some high schools can put on its students is extremely intense. I came from a magnet college-prep school so my view is likely biased, but the amount of expectations put on my shoulders genuinely felt crushing at times. Expectations from standardized testing have grown significantly from when I entered and left high school, and have only gotten worse since I've started college. In my personal experience, I think classes should be weighed less directly on exams, as one bad day can ruin your prospects for years to come, and more on overall performance. I'm also very heavily of the opinion that high schools should have required "life skills" classes, which should include mental health based components. So much of what is part of the current educational environment isn't directly applicable to real life circumstances, and I think that needs to be improved upon so students are less anxious about what is to come in the future.
Neolth: What is your current favorite way to practice self-care?
Student:I mentally reflect a lot at the tail end of most of my days, and focus on using strategies I've learned from CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Sometimes I write my thought processes out, but meditating on what has been floating around in my mind tends to do the most good for me.
At Neolth, we’re on a mission to help students stress less, build resilience and become part of our compassionate community. Our app helps students when they're feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for their mental health journey. Neolth has a growing community of Student Ambassadors from 170 schools and works with schools to improve access to mental health support for their students. The company has won multiple awards for its app, including the 2020 Startup of the Year EdTech Award and the 2021 Tech for Good Timmy Award, San Francisco finalist. You can learn more atneolth.com