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SHS needs to spend more time prioritizing student’s mental health

Coloring supplies in the Wellness Center.
Coloring supplies in the Wellness Center.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are multiple benefits to taking time to recharge and focus on yourself. It is important to take care of your mental health so that you don’t feel as though you are burned out and prevent yourself from entering a mental crisis.

If there are many benefits to recharging and focusing on mental health, why does it feel like Solon High School is lacking in making sure that its students feel as though their mental health is a priority to the school as it once was?

According to the American Psychological Association,¨Many teens … report feeling overwhelmed (31 percent) and depressed or sad (30 percent) as a result of stress. More than one-third of teens report fatigue or feeling tired (36 percent) and nearly one-quarter of teens (23 percent) report skipping a meal due to stress.¨

These are staggering statistics. Teens are going through so much due to a plethora of reasons, and there could be a possibility that it could be curbed by realizing that students are struggling and might need that extra push that they are valued and aren’t alone because many suffer in silence.

I believe that just as we have homework-free weekends, there should be sanctioned school mental health events just as often as we have freshman mentoring. Freshman mentoring is dedicated to ensuring freshmen are adjusting well to high school. We should also be ensuring students are in touch with their mental health and are given time to recognize this because I feel like a lot of the time we are on autopilot. If you are just coasting through, are you truly present?

Michelle Shene ,who is in charge of the Wellness Center, is a key advocate for mental health at Solon High School. She believes mental health/illness should not be stigmatized and should be addressed and taken just as seriously as one’s physical health.

¨There have been a lot of studies that have proven that the mental health of teenagers, especially those in Northeast Ohio, has been declining in recent years, and I think it’s important that gets addressed,¨ said Shene. ¨I don’t care how high achieving you are, if you’re suffering from mental illness, having a bad day or suffering from anxiety sitting in a classroom with all that going on isn’t helping you learn.¨

Solon does try to reach out to students and give helpful coping mechanisms for students– last year the Wellness Center was introduced with the goal of helping give students a safe place and an area where they can decompress and relax. Shene said the Wellness Center has a lot to offer.

¨The Wellness Center has a lot of things like kinetic sand, coloring, games, puzzles, books, spaces to sit and relax or to talk to your friends,¨ Shene said. ¨We also have a therapy dog that comes in for students to pet if they feel like they are too anxious. I hope students feel like [the Wellness Center] is a safe space so if they are having an issue we can direct them to the right people with the right resources.¨

Even with those resources, Senior Liza Boundarcuk said she does not think Solon is doing as much as they could to address student’s mental health issues.

¨We should have more ample resources that are easily accessible not just on our QuickLinks,¨ said Bondarcuk.

After COVID, Solon made many attempts to reach out to students and assure them that their mental health mattered and that there were many resources available to them if needed. But post-COVID, the response doesn’t seem to feel the same or as important as it once was.

But when talking to Shene, Solon High School is much further ahead than other schools in the district which puts a lot into perspective.

¨I feel like there is a ton of room for improvement but the high school, out of all the schools, has taken the biggest steps towards addressing [mental health] and programming,” Shene said. ¨I think some of the other schools might not have a space for students to go to, and I think especially in a school district that does well academically there has to be balance– it’s about having a whole student not just taking tests and only academics.¨

Senior Salmaan Qalinle previously went to school in Somalia where he said the response to mental health is much different than the US.

¨When I was [in Somalia] the idea was if you were a man you should man up and take it like a man,¨ says Qalinle. ¨You had to toughen up over [in Africa] since they didn’t care about mental health. The school I went to cared more about the grades you got than how you felt and were doing.¨

Solon seems to be more progressive in the fight against mental health than many other school systems in the US and abroad. But are the efforts enough for students to feel comfortable reaching out to the adults that are made available to them? And if they aren’t reaching out, are they made to feel as though they can?

¨We could do more,¨ Boundarcuk said. ¨We used to do mindfulness presentations. I think we should bring that back along with activities, we also did five minutes of mindfulness, and [we should] give more resources to students.”

Photos of yoga poses in the Wellness Center.

That being said, the school does offer yoga classes as a physical education option to all students. Several of the yoga classes are taught by Melissa Fitzgerald.

¨When you do yoga you synchronize your breath and movements and your brain can only focus on one thing at a time,” Fitzgerald said. “So when you’re focusing on those things it allows you to be in that present moment which is what mindfulness is.¨

Yoga is a practice where you are avoiding judgment and allows you to be curious and give yourself self-compassion which is the same thing mindfulness preaches. Yoga and mindfulness are great ways to release stressors that connect back to our mental health.

¨We are trying to reduce the stigma of mental health and show that being mentally ill is no different than being physically ill,¨ Fitzgerald explains. ¨So when people are physically sick they don’t think anything of taking a day, so if someone needs to take a day because they mentally don’t feel healthy then absolutely it should be more than appropriate.¨

House Bill 123 made it mandatory that schools give each grade two hours of support when it comes to mental health, but I feel like schools, especially rigorous schools like ours, shouldn’t just do the two hours to meet a quota, they should do it because they care for their student’s mental health and want them to be noticed. Solon should pour in more time because mental health matters, and we could set an example in other schools in our district along with schools in surrounding areas and maybe even further.

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