Depression and Anxiety, High Schoolers Share Woes on Accessing Mental Health Care

Story by Victor Seguin

When we think of schools we think of our education and the learning skills of our next generation; however we don’t always think about the mental wellbeing of those in our schools. We know education is important, but the students in these schools won’t be able to focus on their education if they’re not in the right mindset. But how do we get the students into the right mindset? How do we help the?. These are all questions with no definitive answer. What works for one person might not work for someone else. So then what should we do? One small way to help that I can see is to hire a professional who is trained in helping people with mental health issues.

A major issue is that a high school student who’s dealing with depression or anxiety is usually sent to the nurse or told to speak to the counselor. This doesn’t always work and in some cases its handled with far less care than it should be.

Left to Right: Chase Bertotto, Erendira Reyes and Marqus Carrillo. Photo provided by Victor Seguin.

Erendira Reyes, 19, described her experience with how her former high school, Livingston High, dealt with her depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. When she would have a panic attack or a very depressing day she would cope with it by crying in a bathroom or ditching school to be alone. When the school found out, the vice principal gave her a card that allowed her to leave class to go be alone and deal with her depression or anxiety. After transferring to a Yosemite High School she was told by school officials about a therapist on campus who she could speak to, but sadly that therapist was only available on Wednesdays.

This isn’t just one person’s experience though. Chase Bertotto, 19, also dealt with depression caused by “everything” as he explained to me. Just like Erendira he chose to skip class as a way to cope with his depression. After transferring to Yosemite High School and learning of the therapist he chose not to speak to them.

“I don’t like the idea of talking about my problems with a stranger,” said Bertotto.

Instead he chose to walk with staff members when he would feel depressed because that’s what gave him comfort. “Walking usually helps my anxiety more than talking.”

Another case is Marqus Carrillo, 20, who dealt with depression brought on by school and family issues.

“All the stress from testing every week and all of the bullying piles up on you and causes this depression and anxiety for me.”

He had no way of coping with his feelings and chose to hide them from everyone in hopes they would go away. Additionally Carrillo mentioned he could not afford to see a therapist and that he didn’t know that there was one on his school campus.

“I think that if I would have known about the therapist I would have gone to them and would have hopefully been able to deal with my emotions better.”

We have heard from students, but what does high school staff think about mental health in their schools? According to the 2013 California School Climate Survey by the California Department of Education, only 3.9% of high school staff say mental health is a “severe” issue for students. Another 17.1% see it as a moderate issue, 60.5% see it as a mild issue, and 18.4% see mental health as not an issue at all.

A 2014 study done by UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, showed that 20.8% of California youth ages 12–17 reported needing mental health services for feelings of sadness, anxiety or nervousness. In Merced County alone 24.8% of youth in that age group reported needing mental health services.

A 2012 study done through Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, showed that an average of 62.7% of youth aged 2–17 received the care they asked for whereas sadly in Merced County only 54.3% of that same age group received care. That’s about 1 out every 2 youth who got the care they needed and that’s not right in my eyes.

After seeing all the data and finding out that only half of Merced students actually receive care, our schools need to do more to help our youth who have to deal with these mental health issues. A small percentage of educators and staff see mental health as an issue in schools, but our young people are saying otherwise.

We can’t expect students of any age to be able to excel in their education when they also have to deal with depression or anxiety caused by an number of things happening both in school and out. We must make sure that there are mental health services available to all students so that schools can be a place of learning.