MCPS must mend mental health

Observer Opinion


Kevin Ho

“I don’t wanna be alive, I don’t wanna be alive, I just wanna die today, I just wanna die.”

These words, written by Grammy-nominated rapper and MCPS native Logic, have tragically proven to ring true for many MCPS students. In light of the tragic suicides at Walter Johnson and Walt Whitman High School, it has become increasingly clear that we need to do more regarding mental health both here at CHS, and throughout MCPS as a whole.

CHS is no stranger to tragedy. During the 2015-2016 school year, 2 students committed suicide. Just last March, The Observer published an Observer Opinion demanding proactive mental health support. Unfortunately, almost two years later, it seems as if the epidemic of depression has only gotten worse.

According to the Center for Disease Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have doubled for young girls between 2007 and 2015, and they have increased 30 percent for young boys in that time. This problem is only getting worse, as suicide rates have increased 24 percent over a 15 year period, as the CDC reports.

Many students have expressed feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and an utter lack of adequate support through this painful time. That needs to change.

At CHS, important steps toward adequate mental health care have been taken. Almost immediately after CHS experienced two tragic suicides during the 2015-2016 school year, administration and SGA implemented Students of Strength Day. Additionally, the class of 2018 founded UNITE, an event for the CHS community to build relationships, focus on our healing, strengthen our bond and honor those who we have lost. Despite these steps that have been taken, it is clear that still, not enough has been done in prioritizing mental health and providing resources for us to cope.

According to MCPS SMOB Matthew Post, he plans to host a mental health student forum on Jan. 8th for students and county members to have conversation about the specific resources and supports for better mental health that are lacking in the county.

Additionally, Lauryn’s Law, which went into effect Apr. 2015, requires all school counselors and staff members to undergo training that would provide them with tools for recognizing mental illness signs.

It is great that comprehensive paths to stronger mental health are being taken. However, an important resource that is currently lacking in MCPS schools is access to counselors who specialize in dealing with crisis. Many of the counselors at CHS and around the county are trained in helping students with academics, scheduling and even some mental health issues, but when it comes to extreme crises such as suicidal thoughts, they may unintentionally leave some students in the dust.

There are 2,088 students currently enrolled here at CHS. However, there are only nine full time counselors at CHS, meaning that on there are 232 students per counselor.

It is simply impossible for each counselor to be able to connect with every single student on a level that they may need, and be an active support in all their lives. MCPS schools, as well as every school nationwide, would greatly benefit from hiring more counselors who specialize in mental health.

Currently, the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association (MCR) has proposed that monthly mandatory meetings with counselors, in which college, scheduling and academics is not mentioned but rather counselors have an opportunity to check in on their students and make sure their mental health is in tact. This is a simple, yet extremely effective way to change the culture at MCPS schools. By providing students with the opportunity to express how they feel, students will feel as though their mental health is finally prioritized. Students themselves are more than just their grades and many of us just need some reassurance that we matter.

Shortly, Superintendent Jack Smith will release the budget for 2018-2019 school year. It is crucial that an adequate amount of the budget is allocated towards mental health reform, such as providing resources, hiring more counselors and increasing training even further for MCPS faculty.

Another important tool that students should be able to utilize throughout the year are excused mental health days. Just like physical health, mental health is extremely important and when someone’s mental health is lacking, they may need time away from school to rest their mind and heal. However, it is very rare at any school across the country that mental health is prioritized on the same level of physical health.

Many people view mental health days as just a way for students to skip school. There is a stigma surrounding taking time off for oneself as an excuse to be lazy, or a way for students to miss a quiz or test that they did not study for. However, it is irresponsible to rule out the option of mental health days just because of the possibility that a student doesn’t truly need it.

According to a Nov. 2017 Forbes Magazine article, taking a mental health day reinforces the importance of taking care of one’s mind, and it can be a great opportunity for students to sharpen their emotional coping mechanisms.

There is a wide misconception that taking time off for being mentally sick would not be excused in the same way, and it is important that this misconception be cleared up.

According to Principal Joan Benz, when students turn in an absence note, the attendance office does not question why they are took the day off. If they need time to recuperate and rest their mind, it should be excused as long as a note is turned in.

Suicide seems as if it has become dangerously common. It may feel easy to become desensitized concerning suicide and mental health but as a student body, we must remember what is important. We must change our culture so that tragedies like these do not happen again. Each person lost is one too many.