Equip Students with the Emotional Tools to Succeed

Courage to talk to trusted adults stems from mutual understanding. (Source: Valerii Honcharuk)

One of the pillars of the Boston Latin School mission statement is to provide its students with “preparation for successful college studies.” While our guidance counselors are very well-versed in giving us the resources we need to apply to colleges, they often are not as prepared when it comes to mental and emotional health. Their chief objective is to support students in their academic success, social and emotional wellbeing and postsecondary planning. Mental wellness, however, is often not factored into discussing a student’s academic success.

Mental wellness is directly linked to a student’s social and academic development, and expanding guidance support to further address these issues would allow students an outlet to address and destigmatize their mental health concerns. Overall, expanding education and awareness of mental health among faculty, parents and students will allow students to grow and succeed in all areas of life.

Mental health is a very misunderstood and taboo topic among many communities. The stigma surrounding mental health has long stood in the way of students’ school performance, in both personal relationships and social life. President of BLS Let’s Erase the Stigma (LETS), Carine Badawi (II) expresses her frustration, “I wish [mental health discussion] was more normalized. If you’ve heard me speak at any LETS event, I repeat time and time again, your physical health is equally as important as your mental health. I wish that people felt more comfortable telling a teacher that they aren’t doing good mentally.”

Taking the initiative to seek mental health help, however, is commonly the most difficult step for many students. In many communities, seeking mental health is regarded as shameful or weak. To combat these stigmas, BLS should teach students that seeking mental help is okay, and that they are not alone in dealing with these issues.

Education on various disorders and how to help friends in need is critical toward raising awareness. Because students mostly turn to friends for support and advice, it is important to teach students what is helpful to say and what is not. Friends and even teachers can often invalidate a student’s feelings without meaning to do so. Constructing an environment open to communication about mental health will distribute thoughtful conversations surrounding the issues students face.

Guidance support should be expanded to accommodate students’ mental well-being because academic success is interconnected with mental health. Guidance Counselor Mr. Samson Luu shares, “I definitely believe school counselors are equipped. We are required to go through extensive schooling and must have a Master’s of Education in School Counseling.”

Their field of training also includes counseling programs such as Psychopathology and Diagnosis, Trauma and Crisis Counseling and Behavioral Counseling, all of which help them guide students in their academic success. For many students, school is their only opportunity to reach out for help — whether that be to their friends, a trusted teacher or guidance counselor. Furthermore, because students spend most of their developmental years in school, it is imperative they have a strong support system at school.

In a time where the need for support and connections are high, more people are lonelier than ever before. The balancing act of schoolwork, extracurriculars, a healthy social life and anxiety about the future take its toll, and student stress and anxiety levels show no signs of slowing down. Based on data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 31.9 percent of adolescents have an anxiety disorder. Loneliness, fear of failure and social anxiety are just a few issues that can arise when mental health is constantly overlooked.

The NIMH also states that suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-34. The question then becomes, how can we prevent these numbers? Badawi states, “The simplest response that I can give to this question is education and educating people in our school community. Until the broader community has a better understanding of different mental health disorders, there will always be a stigma attached to mental illness. I think that by developing a safe and supportive environment and having learning-based programs, we can begin to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health.”

From loneliness and anxiety to severe depression, the pandemic’s impact on students’s mental health has surged into its own epidemic. Especially with a whole school year of self-quarantine, it is crucial to start the next school year by establishing a strong foundation of open communication and mental health education. Starting next year, BLS will have social workers in school to support students. It is most important, however, to teach students the importance of reaching out for help and for those around them to remain sympathetic and kind towards those who they know might be struggling.