Mental health has always been stigmatized, and those who feel they may be struggling with it often choose to keep their feelings silent due to shame or guilt.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, there are two separate kinds of mental health issues. The first, known as common mental health problems include severe forms of normal reactions, like anxiety or depression. This is so common in fact, that one out of 10 people are affected with a mild to severe form of anxiety or depression.
“Most students have some degree of anxiety or depression,” said social worker Pat Ferrugia. “Anxiety, which can be either primary or attached to something, depression or mood disorders like bipolar or ADHD. Often, anxiety and depression have co-morbidity, which simply means you see symptoms of both.”
Oftentimes, depression or anxiety can look like typical teenage behavior. However, there’s a fine line between normal and needing help.
Symptoms of depression include difficulty concentrating, decreased energy, overwhelming feelings of guilt or hopelessness, insomnia, or thoughts of suicide.
Symptoms of anxiety include nausea, feeling dizzy, fears of losing control or dramatic mood swings. Chronic anxiety often leads to physical symptoms, like panic attacks.
Between one and two out of every 100 people are diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. These are known as a “psychosis” disorders because patients often are out of touch with reality and can hear voices, be paranoid, feel unrealistically powerful and hold irrational beliefs.
“It’s very rare to see schizophrenia in high school,” said Ferrugia. “That disease often shows up in a person’s late 20s-early 30s. Over my 18 years of being at this school, I’ve only seen two or three who have been at a diagnosable level.”
About a quarter of the population struggles with some kind of mental health issue, and that number may be growing.
“We write parent-link articles, work very closely with the nurse who is very good at differentiating at what’s going on and wrote a grant to get more mindfulness/relaxation techniques in school,” said Ferrugia. “I think we put out a lot of fires.”
“On average, I probably see one to two people a day with mental health issues,” said Nurse JoAnn Nestor. “Depending on the issue, I see people with stomach or headaches that are stress or anxiety related. I have to determine which of those it is, whether it stems from a physical cause or is emotionally stress related.”
Fifty-one percent of people in the National Co-morbidity Study showed signs of substance abuse and mental disorders. Scientists debate whether the substance abuse can cause a mental disorder or whether the substance abuse is used within a person who already has signs of a mental disorder.
“Sometimes kids with mental health issues will self-medicate,” said social worker Anne Gibbs. “It provides them with a temporary relief. When they come off the high though, they don’t feel better; they feel worse. Alcohol and marijuana are two big issues, which largely go unnoticed because kids are doing them ‘socially’ and aren’t recognizing that they’re trying to escape from their problems.”
In addition to possible substance abuse, eating disorders are another issue that comes along with mental health.
“[Eating disorders and mental health] are intimately connected,” said Gibbs. “It’s mathematical. They don’t have control over their lives, and the only thing they do feel like they have power and control over is their eating habits.”
“Many times, you’ll see anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, other compulsions and depression,” said Ferrugia. “There’s a fine line between normal and haywire.”
Figuring out just what the fine line is could be difficult, although as a general rule, if a person has an excess of negative behavior, and it isn’t a phase, an argument could be made for more specific treatment.
There are healthy ways to deal with these behaviors. Discussions with either the social workers at school, parents or another trusted adult, as well as opening up healthy and positive behaviors, like exercise, art or music or calling a hotline listed below.
“It is so important, that if someone feels this way, they get help,” said Gibbs. “It might be awkward for two minutes but you need to have that conversation.”
(877) LGBT-YTH (5428984)
St. Louis County Youth Connection Hotline: 314-628-2929
Behavioral Health Response: 314-469-3638
Kids Under Twenty-One (KUTO): (314) 963-7571