Would you feel comfortable receiving surgery from someone who knew nothing about medicine or the human anatomy? I certainly wouldn’t! Some essential needs just can’t be met unless handled by an expert, and this is certainly the case with the mental health supports of young people. It is incredibly important that schools ensure their mental health professionals are equipped to support students in a range of situations.
In my own experience, I severely struggled with an eating disorder throughout high school. Due to this, I was in and out of inpatient treatment for years, sometimes for several months at once. As a result, my grades and drive as a student took a toll as my primary focus became my health.
I believe that things could have gone differently if my school was better equipped to help me. In my case, my school knew nothing about anorexia or other eating disorders. As a result, they didn’t know how to assist me or reacclimate me into classes after treatment. They lacked the knowledge of how to prioritize my recovery, and I believe my academic career suffered due to this.
It can feel impossible to stay committed to education as a young student struggling with mental health which is why mental health resources within schools are an essential key to setting young people up for success. Furthermore, it should be mandatory that mental health practitioners be hired only if they are experienced in a variety of conditions and subject areas. For instance, many students battle depression and anxiety disorders, but there are also many young people who fall into other categories of mental health conditions While certain schools may be able to help kids struggling with depression or anxiety, what about those struggling with eating disorders, OCD, Bipolar, PTSD, and so many other complex conditions?
Staff should also be prepared to provide students with necessary professional help such as extensive and reliable referrals, depending on what the student is struggling with. Additionally, prevention education should start early on, beginning in elementary school through high school and should include empowering young kids by teaching healthy coping mechanisms. Because of my experience with eating disorders, I believe there should be more information taught on the importance of nutrition, and every school should have at least one nutritionist or dietician.
Without adequate staff education and preparation, schools are unable to support students based on their individual needs. Schools need to change how they prioritize the success and well-being of their students–they are responsible for creating an environment that will positively shape young people and encourage the potential they hold.
If my school had been better prepared to handle a variety of mental health matters, I would be in a different place now. Schools need to broaden their spectrum of mental health resources, knowledge and training, so no more promising students fall through the cracks.
Isabela D. is a member of Young Invincibles’ New York 2021 Mayor’s Fellowship in Policy and Advocacy program.