How Does Your School Address Students’ Mental Health Needs?

During this school year or any point in your school career, have you had classes or special programs that have taught you how to deal with emotions, manage stress, know when to seek help from an adult and recognize when a friend is struggling?

At your school, have any students formed groups or clubs intended to boost happiness, ease stress, encourage wellness or offer help with mental health issues? Would you be interested in joining such a program?

In “When the Biggest Student Mental Health Advocates Are the Students,” Jennifer Miller writes about student-led initiatives that have popped up in some schools. The article begins:

Last October, to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Week, a group of students at Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram, Maine, created the annual Hope Board. Shaped like an enormous tulip and displayed in the lobby, the board was covered with anonymous teenage aspirations. Some students hoped to pass driver’s education or have a successful playoff season. Others expressed more complicated desires. “To be more happy than angry,” wrote one student. Another wrote, “I hope people are kinder and more mature.”

Camryn Baron, 17, created the board as a founder of Sacopee’s Yellow Tulip Team, a student group devoted to mental health. “It’s an outlet for some kids to be able to outwardly express and vocalize something that’s bothering them,” she said.

Ms. Baron has struggled with an eating disorder, anxiety and depression; she is bisexual and has not always felt supported. “The things that a lot of us dismiss or struggle with here — to be able to share them with other people is validating,” she said.

Sacopee’s Yellow Tulip Team is one of roughly 150 such clubs supported by the Yellow Tulip Project, a mental health education and advocacy nonprofit. Co-founded in 2016 by Julia Hansen, a high schooler in Maine who had lost her two best friends to suicide, the nonprofit works to destigmatize mental illness and help students prioritize their emotional well-being.

At Sacopee Valley, the club plays upbeat music to welcome students each Monday and shares mental health information through morning announcements. Each fall, it plants a Hope Garden — 500 tulip bulbs this year — and will celebrate the flowers’ resilience in the spring with a youth wellness day of workshops and activities. At the group’s regular meetings, students might discuss stress reduction strategies, as well as the homophobia, socio-economic inequality and various stigma that many teenagers experience in their conservative-leaning, rural community.

In recent years, nonprofits that support school-based mental health clubs have found their programs in demand. The increase is the result of two phenomena: the rising number of adolescents struggling with mental health and the dearth of resources to help them. As schools search for solutions, often it’s the students who are leading the effort.

“When we think about mental health, it’s not just about crisis intervention,” said Lisa Padilla, senior behavioral and social scientist at the RAND Corporation, who has studied mental health clubs. “The peer-based organizations are creating an environment in the school that says, ‘We value your well-being, and we know that’s part of who you are as a whole person.’ That message goes a long way to make students feel safe and empowered to speak up about their own needs.”

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • Before reading the article, had you heard of the Yellow Tulip Project? Does your school have a Yellow Tulip Team or something similar that is run by students who offer support to their peers? If so, what does the group do?

  • Do you feel that your school has adequate resources for students who are struggling with their mental health? Are there groups, safe spaces or adults, such as counselors, available to help?

  • The article discusses efforts to destigmatize mental health issues, or to make people feel more comfortable talking about their struggles. Do you still see a stigma associated with mental health and with getting help for it? Which of the efforts mentioned in the article do you think would be most helpful in reducing discomfort around these issues? Why?

  • The article quotes a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found that, in 2021, 44 percent of high school students claimed they “persistently felt sad or hopeless,” up 7.3 percent from a study conducted in 2019. Do these statistics reflect your own observations? Do you think that your peers struggle more now than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic?

  • If you were asked to contribute ideas to what schools could do, or do differently, to help foster mental well-being, what would you suggest? Why?

  • Finally, now that you’ve read about the shortage of mental health resources for students, are you interested in pursuing a career in a related field, such as a school psychologist or a counselor? What qualities do you think a person who works with young people in this capacity should have?

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.

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