The importance of mental health

By Neo Bishop, staff writer

Student mental health has been an issue for years but it is getting increasingly worse. According to National Institute Of Health, in 2020, suicide was among the top 9 leading causes of death for people ages 10-64. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 25-34. More than 4 out of 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health. These trends are increasing.

Do we know why? Is it social media, bullying, or things at home? Or is it all of them? To gain more professional insight on the subject, we talked with Debbie Wright, a Behavior Specialist at Saegertown High School.

Question: What are the triggers that may affect students’ mental health?

Answer: Number one I would say is kids not getting sleep. Number two is that a lot of kids are coming from environments where kids were not in a public school and are being introduced to a public school. It’s a lot for them. It’s a lot of anxiety, the social aspect of it, to literally have it all hit at once. 

Question: What do you do as a behavior specialist?

Answer: It is basically just another person in the room to help the teacher. It is about anything that can help students be successful in the school environment, within reason. 

Question: Why did you choose this job?

Answer: I started out in education and found that I gravitated towards kids having difficulties. My mom was a teacher for years and she kind of directed me that I really needed to specialize with kids that are having more issues because that is where my heart is.

Question: Have you noticed any increase in student mental health issues in the past year?

Answer: I don’t know about the past year, but since the COVID pandemic lockdown, that kind of stunted social and emotional growth in kids because a lot of them were cooped up. The interaction they did have was not true social interaction.

Question: What is the biggest factor in a student’s mental health?

Answer: The ability to handle change is something important. It is hard to do that. Some kids want it to stay the same. Kids come in here and they haven’t been in school and it affected them in a social and emotional sense. 

Question: What is the best advice you can give to a student that is struggling?

Answer: They are the best ones to try and figure it out. Starting with a more holistic approach. Starting with eating right and getting sleep. Even getting exercise such as yoga. It is important for students to have a support network. 

Question: What is a way to make the school more neurodivergent friendly?

Answer: I think they have helped with the bells. I think it is pretty subtle. Turning lights off at times may help.

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