43 The Downfall of Bright Minds – Jeannie Vega

Author: Jeannie Vega, Pima Community College

High school should be the perfect time for young adults to flourish, to feel secure in their future choices, to be confident in who they are, but that is not always possible. High school can just as easily be the worst years of someone’s life, where they lose themselves, when they are torn down and don’t know what the future holds for them. For some students, their schools are the only lifeline they have when it comes to mental health help. In an article published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “15% of adolescents aged 12-17 reported receiving mental health services at school, compared to 17% who saw a specialty provider.” (NAMI). This shows that a very small percentage of teens receive help from their school.

Most people believe that it is up to the parents when it comes to anything having to do with children’s mental health. In a perfect world that would be the case. Sadly, some parents believe their children are being dramatic or sensitive, in some cases, parents don’t believe in a mental illness at all. This paired with the fact that kids spend the majority of their time at school, would prove there is a reason for mental health to be an important topic in schools.

I am a recent high school graduate, and have struggled with anxiety and depression. I felt very alone and had no one to talk to, I was struggling. My grades weren’t as high as they should have been, I was either not eating at all or eating too much, and I couldn’t sleep no matter how tired I was. I had known from a precious incident with a student, that my counselors would brush serious incidents aside. So I chose to never talk to them. Eventually I was able to seek the treatment that I needed, but it had nothing to do with my school. I never want anyone to have to feel so hopeless and feel that they can’t reach out to a member of their school’s staff. I want to help advocate and be the voice for those in similar situations.

I wanted to speak to someone who has a job that is very prevalent to the issue I am looking at. I chose to interview my high school counselor, Aaryn Townsend. She is currently a counselor at Andrada Polytechnic High School in the Vail School District. I sent my questions to her through email.

1. Do you feel like the mental health of students is an issue that deserves more attention?

Ms. Townsend: Yes, I do feel like student mental health is an issue that always deserves more attention. I will say, however, in the past 6 or 7 years, it has gotten more attention and that makes me happy. I think we are at a point in which we say, what do we do about it? There are differing opinions on what helps students and how we can help them be successful at school, so I would say the part that needs the most attention is coming together as schools, districts, or even states or the nation and saying what can we do about it and what resources can we put towards it?

2. Do you feel that you received enough training to be able to help students by either directing them to further resources or some other way?

Ms. Townsend: As a certified school counselor, yes I do feel like I have had enough training. I am a trained mental health professional, but the issue is not everyone in my position is! I believe there needs to be trained mental health professionals at every school campus who are knowledgeable in skills and what to do in a crisis or to help students in need.

3. Do you feel that the staff (not just counselors) at schools would benefit from further training to help students?

Ms. Townsend: Yes, I definitely do. Sometimes staff can feel pressured or awkward in matters of mental health, but any training, even if it is just to raise awareness and to recognize warning signs of a student in need, is very valuable. The Vail school district does do this in our suicide prevention team, which trains all staff district wide in suicide awareness and prevention. I am one of the trainers that trains their schools, and every year staff either get a training or a refresher on the material. I believe this has helped tremendously.

4. What would you recommend to help students with mental issues in schools?

Ms. Townsend: The main suggestion is to have more school counselors and smaller ratios so they can get to know students on their caseload better. This would be the biggest preventative measure in my opinion. Outside of that, the biggest barrier I come across is a lack of quality resources outside of school. As a school counselor, I cannot provide therapy to students on an ongoing basis, so when they reach out to find a counselor, they are either booked or do not take insurance. It is difficult for the families and the students. rarely, I also find that adolescents are going to a therapist that does not know adolescents, and this is a problem. In my opinion, they can be quick to diagnose or misdiagnose, with the diagnosis changing after a couple of months, and this can happen when the counselor does not know the demographic. I think having more resources outside of school, and more that work directly with schools, would make a big difference.

5. Are you satisfied with how these types of issues are currently handled at the school you’re working at?

Ms. Townsend: Overall, yes, but I would advocate for more school counselors, as well as more trained school counselors across the district.

I was very grateful to have been able to interview someone so closely connected with this issue. I was happy to know that she feels satisfied about how things are handled in schools. It definitely shows how being on different sides of the situation can change your perspective. As a student in this situation, I would have never thought that every staff member has some type of training. I also found it interesting that they specify on suicide prevention. This of course is such an important issue, but when it comes to succeeding in school, anxiety and depression can cause just as much damage. Even though I disagree on some points, I am glad to know how she feels as a professional within the field. I strongly agree with what she recommends to further help students, which is the importance of outside sources. After all of my research, I also believe that this would be the best way to help.

I wanted to expand my research to further than just my local school district. I looked at articles and other websites that shared individual stories about the need for increased mental health assistance. One of the articles that I looked at was from a school district in South Carolina. The paper is about the progress of receiving assistance from multiple sources, mainly financial and how that benefited the students. A big theme within the article was about collaboration. I found that very interesting because as the article states: “Strong collaborations and communication efforts both within the university setting and between partners in education and community settings, along with engaged funders keen to enhance well‐being of children, youth, and families statewide have set the stage for the growth and expansion of work described here.” (Shapiro). This shows that it takes a lot of people working together to be able to achieve something great, I think this also points to the difficulty, as in getting everyone on board with a solution or idea. But for that district in South Carolina, even though it was hard, the end result was worth it.

Overall, I really felt that I learned a lot from all of my research. I am so grateful for an opportunity to have been able to dive deeper into the need for mental health resources in schools and to be able to share my findings with others. This is an issue that deserves immediate attention and will hold importance forever. Not every child is blessed with a good home life, and these children are the future of our world. They all deserve someone to be looking out for them, even if it’s just to talk or point them in the right direction. There are kids right now whose grades are slipping, whose smiles are fading, and whose future goals are being erased. As individuals, we may not have that much power, but as a community we can do anything, and that is what our children need and deserve.


“Mental Health in Schools.” NAMI, www.nami.org/Advocacy/Policy-Priorities/Improving-Health/Mental-Health-in-Schools.

Shapiro, Cheri J., et al. “Coalescing Investments in School Mental Health in South Carolina.” Child and Adolescent Mental Health, vol. 25, no. 3, Sept. 2020, pp. 150–156. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/camh.12382.

“The Importance of Mental Health Awareness in Schools.” Hey Teach!, 8 Sept. 2021, www.wgu.edu/heyteach/article/importance-mental-health-awareness-schools1810.html.

Townsend, Aaryn. Personal Interview. 29 November 20 2021.


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