The need for advocates and allies

By Helen Nguyen | May | June 2020
The day someone starts high school to the day they graduate is more hectic than it seems. During this period in our life, we are learning and growing, which is when we are the most vulnerable to mental illness. I feel as if the topic of mental health is talked about, but not reinforced, especially for students. Student advocacy is a person/group of people who empowers their students either by talking to them, reassuring them, listening to them, or even just being there for them when they need them the most. I feel that student advocacy should be a top priority for the administrators, teachers, and staff on campus. I believe this would benefit the future generation to a much better extent. As a junior in high school, I would say that I am physically and mentally exhausted. Dealing with AP classes, leadership, community service, clubs, and homework can drain a person especially if they do not have an outlet to let “loose,” to feel relaxed, or to deal with their problems. There were times in my sophomore year when I was struggling with my work, like so much work and also my own family problems. I would sometimes cry during class or lunch and I felt like a burden to my peers and teachers. One day in class I just burst into tears, and my teacher made me feel better by comforting me and telling me how her class is always open and that I should not just bottle up my emotions since it will have a tremendous effect on me. The next day I was embarrassed to go to class since everyone saw me cry, but when I got into class she began talking about mental health and the effects of it and how we should not be ashamed of something we cannot control. I felt so reassured by her, since many teachers would have just brushed it off as a girl being dramatic of a small problem.

On the other hand, I had a friend who often left class to go and cry in the restroom until the bell would ring, and her teacher did not bother asking why she was crying, not even once. I find this hard to write since I would like to believe that every teacher would not turn a blind eye to a student who was clearly going through a rough time. Some teachers may feel as if it is not their problem or they should mind their own business. I feel like a teacher who questions a student about their situation and well-being can have so many positive side effects on the student. For example, my friend felt as if she was invisible to her teacher and peers since no one questioned why she left class therefore she believed no one noticed. An article from the Wall Street Journal states that youth (age 10-24) suicide has increased to 56 percent in the last decade, and it is one of the most common leading causes of death for teens/young adults. Some of the children who have committed suicide may have felt so alone and so invisible, but I believe that people did notice but no one did anything. Maybe no one did anything because they felt as if it was not their problem or it was not their business. This sort of mentality is wrong and student advocacy needs to be prioritized between all staff and students. As my high school life continues, one thing I noticed is that not all teachers care about the students, but care more about our grades or attendance. For example, growing up all I ever heard was attendance equals success, which means more money, a degree, a nice life. We never hear things such as “taking breaks is okay,” or “do not be ashamed of your work or yourself.” During this one incident, my friend had a total of 13 tardies in one semester. He was sent to the office and given detention, he felt so helpless in that situation which was sad since I felt as if they would have dealt with this situation better. For instance, they could have asked him why he was tardy so many times, if he needed help with anything, anything really to get to know his situation and to reassure him. I have been a high school student for three years now, and I have experienced things that not many should. I wish some things could have made me feel like there was light at the end of the tunnel, instead of me playing guessing games of if life will ever get better. Here are some ways I think things can change at school: More reassurance from teachers and staff members. Giving punishments such as dentition, probation, etc. can cause students to act out instead of reforming.
Have a monthly or bimonthly counseling appointments with all students. This can help connect students and counselors at a better level and also make the student feel as if they are not alone.
Have a more open talk with staff and students about mental health and suicide. This can help educate people about the signs of withdrawal and consequences that follow these topics. All in all, high school is one of the most difficult times in life for many people, and during this time we feel as if it shapes everything about us. Reinforcing a positive school culture can reshape what many may think and feel about themselves, others, or about the school. Administrators and staff should start noticing different signs students give off, since these signs are an indication of what the student needs to get better. Therefore, by helping and reassuring students, it can help them succeed in the long run.

Helen Nguyen is a student at Milpitas High School in the Milpitas Unified School District

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