A visual depiction of the mental health crisis taking place in schools. (Illustration by: Ella Acciacca)
A visual depiction of the mental health crisis taking place in schools.

Illustration by: Ella Acciacca

The Mental Health Problem at Huntington Beach High School

Content Warning: in-depth conversations about mental health, mention of racism, mention of sexual harassment, mention of abuse and neglect, mention of suicidal intention and ideation, mention of self-harm

May 18, 2022

Disclaimer: The survey conducted by the author of this article was not a peer-reviewed, professional study and should not be considered entirely without its faults. The author believes that the answers provided by recipients are important and valid enough to share, but asks that readers proceed with a critical yet open mind to data provided by students about their own school experiences and their own feelings towards how they have been treated by administrators and the school district.

A 2017-2019 staff-reported study conducted by the California Department of Education found that 42.9% of Orange County students had moderate problems with mental health and 25.5% of students experienced severe problems. That was before the COVID-19 outbreak that shut down the Huntington Beach Union High School District (HBUHSD) on March 13th, 2020 – and undoubtedly, those numbers have only increased, and student mental health has only gotten worse. 

The 2020 annual California Report Card conducted by Children Now, a non-profit organization dedicated to including children’s issues in policymaking, found that “mental illness is the #1 reason California kids are hospitalized.” The study also reported that “there are high levels of chronic sadness and suicide ideation reported among all students; students who are lesbian, gay and bisexual report even higher levels.” On their grading system, California received a D in its provisions of Behavioral Health Care, critiquing the state on the “current patchwork of policies, siloed funding streams, lack of coordination among agencies and levels of government, burdensome administrative complexity, and diagnosis-driven treatment models [that] prevent many California children from being deemed eligible to receive crucial services.”

In a student-run survey asking 175 HBHS students from all grade levels about how the 2021-2022 school year was affecting their mental health, 84.9% of students said they felt burned out as the first semester came to a close. 62% of the students who answered differently to that question were freshmen.

Pie chart representing the amount of students saying they are burned out. (Infographic by: Ella Acciacca)

Student burnout refers to chronic work-related stress and is characterized by symptoms of decreased motivation, mental exhaustion, and intense feelings of negativity and cynicism.

The “expiration date” for students’ motivation has been rapidly approaching closer and closer to the beginning of the year, especially after years affected by COVID-19. Unless administrators in charge put forward the effort to remedy this crisis, students could show up to the first day of school burned out just from the thought of attending school at all.

Student Confessionals

In the aforementioned survey, students anonymously answered the question: “How is school affecting your emotional state [at the end of the first semester]?” Here are some of the responses:

“It feels like a boring chore that does not let me rest.”

“Coming back from online school was hard. As it is, assignments personally take much more persistence to get done than they would the previous years, so having yet another “new normal” is just a lot to handle. Grateful to be back, just finding it rocky.”

“My emotional state is not great; getting out of bed this morning was one of the hardest things I’ve done all week. It was really just awful having to be here on Monday morning at 7 am.”

“I feel like I can’t do anything right.”

“It makes me feel so tired all the time even though my classes aren’t that hard compared to other kids. I also feel a lot of pressure because I am not getting good grades like I used to, and so many kids are so much better/smarter than me.”

“To be honest it’s not too good. There is so much work to do and cheer takes up so much time that I have to stay awake super late at night just to get anything done.”

“As this is my last year, I truly feel drained to be at school. The only thing I am looking forward to is graduating.”

“School is stressful in senior year because it could lead to you not being able to graduate, or worse, your college decision can be rescinded. College applications alone are stressful, let alone the idea of possibly losing out on an opportunity because of a letter grade.”

“I’m really hard on myself and it’s hard to manage all the elements of a new school, especially after coming from a super small school. I’ve been overwhelmed a lot.”

“I cry when I drop a spoon.”

“I feel like if I don’t do well I don’t have worth.”

These were only a select few of over 175 emotionally-charged responses.

COVID-19 and Its Impact on the Education System

Back on March 13, 2020, when everyone was excited for two weeks off in the middle of the longest month, I sat there and wondered to myself, now that there is an unprecedented, ample amount of time to re-evaluate how the education system must operate going forward and a demand to reassess how students are taught online, what will change? How will HBHS change its policies on education standards to accommodate for the increased pressures of switching to online learning in the midst of a global pandemic? When will mental and physical health transition to the main priority among staff members? Will we remember how supported we felt during the years of COVID-19, or will we remember them as the worst school years we had ever experienced?

However, one school cannot solve mental health once and for all in the midst of a pandemic. Though the changes made by HBUHSD came from good intentions, it will take more than a virtual HBHS “calm room” filled with links to mobile meditation apps, crisis chats, and online mind games to aid students as they cope with their individual losses and struggles during COVID-19’s peak. These ideas are kind gestures at most but do not encourage any systemic mental health change to occur – it is not enough anymore.

“I seriously thought there was going to be a meaningful evaluation about the effects of school on mental health and student well-being after we were online for a year, but it looks like we are just ignoring the fact that there should be changes once more.” – anonymous student

Additionally, the school’s curriculum noticeably became more condensed. Technical errors with Zoom cut lessons short and school became incredibly repetitive and draining. The consequences of not participating or paying attention in Zoom class could never be as flustering as when a teacher tells a student something face-to-face.

Mr. Feliciani, a freshman English teacher at HBHS, says, “We were just as surprised as you were about the events. This is something that none of us in our current lives have experienced…when we closed on March 13th and [students] went home with those questions, we had the same questions as well. What can we expect of our students? Do they even have access to the Internet? Well, what if they don’t? How do I grade someone who doesn’t have that access? Or what if someone has to take care of their siblings?”

“We had plenty of students who had to take care of their…one-year-old brothers and sisters…how can I ask [that person who has to babysit the whole day] to do the same amount of work as someone who doesn’t?” Mr. Feliciani continues. “What about the students who were failing beforehand? Should we take off their grades? Should we bring them up? Is that fair to those who worked [for their grades]?”

“All of these things were really discussions that [staff had and] were very fluid and well-adjusted. [In the] 2019-2020 school year, the big goal was just to make sure that everyone was safe and everyone was interacting in some way so we weren’t so lonely,” Mr. Feliciani adds. “The actual learning was not the priority. It was definitely mental health that took the priority.”

It is impossible to disconnect the effects that last year has had on our present school year, regardless of whether or not HBHS has pledged to remain in person for the entire year – especially when there is still an issue with HBHS students feeling unsafe on school grounds due to others not wearing their masks properly. With daily low-exposure notices sent school-wide even when a student is not present on the school day that is being reported on, students begin to wonder if any COVID-19 mandates were being enforced at all by the district aside from a few passionate teachers.

“It’s tiring to wake up every day and do repetitive tasks in an environment that is physically unsafe while worrying about our grades over our health, which drains our mental well-being as well.” – anonymous student

The updated version of the guidance for masking that HBHS follows is not something decided by the district; it has been decided by the California Department of Public Health after hospitalization rates due to COVID-19 have decreased significantly in the last few months. But it is obvious that this intense trauma due to the pandemic has already been embedded within our generation’s psyche, and it is irresponsible to ignore that fact.

“The reason I’m extremely anxious about COVID-19 is because it [worsens] the symptoms of my disability,” says Grace Cross, a junior at HBHS. “So obviously when I see people in my classes sitting next to me, fully not wearing their masks, it’s like, do you seriously not give a f— about if I’m able to walk? Or if I’m able to get out of bed? Or go anywhere? And obviously, it affects everyone and it’s awful for everybody, but for the people where it is literally life or death, especially for disabled people, [I am telling people who aren’t taking this seriously to] have some sort of empathy.”

From a scientific point of view, prolonged stress on the brain may permanently impact the way it operates regularly. Eun Joo Kim, Blake Pellman, and Jeansok J. Kim published a critical review of the hippocampus to the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health stating that “structurally, human and animal studies have shown that stress changes neuronal morphology, suppresses neuronal proliferation, and reduces hippocampal volume.” This is a fanciful way of describing how the brain’s ability to remember key information through the hippocampus gets severely impacted when stress is prolonged. 

COVID-19’s effect on the developing brain will stunt growth and will very likely present an anomaly in generational studies to come; what needs to be addressed now is how to not make that worse and how to present a safe environment to seek to learn and seek solace in. Choosing not to intervene and let problems silently fix themselves is not a feasible option anymore: the school system needs to do better.

“I think for a lot of teachers, the pandemic was a really big lesson on recognizing the importance of the safe environment in the classroom,” says Mr. Feliciani. “This is true not just for students but for anybody. When you feel calm, when you feel comfortable, when you feel safe, [when you feel] that this is a place where you can say things and can work in [and] not be judged in [or] yelled at… people respond better… I think a lot of teachers really learned the importance that student success is really driven by more than just their knowledge of the content, but by their ability to put themselves in a state of mind to learn about the content.”

Much of the onus has been placed on teachers to bridge the gap between students and genuinely learning when the district should be taking strides to help; this is a trauma combatant issue, not a silly side project to ignore. A common problem with the mindfulness activities presented for students is the lack of a follow-up after the first step – students have a beginning-of-the-year activity to make goals for themselves then they are never brought up again.

Implementing systems where teachers meet students halfway, so long as the student takes on the responsibility to care, will show results. Addressing previous goals, self-reflecting, and creating new goals together will show results. Showing students that there is genuine care being put in for them will show results.

How Marginalized Students Are Regarded by Staff at HBHS

The aforementioned California Children Now 2020 Report Card states that “student success hinges on the support of caring and effective adults,” yet California has been given an F in possessing caring professionals at school – the only F on the entire transcript. 

“California schools have fewer educators, counselors, nurses, support staff, and administrators than almost any other state in the country — and the professionals on campus do not reflect the diversity of the students served” Children Now continues. “This deficiency in staffing has the most profound impact on students facing barriers that require targeted support to address, including those living with racism and the categories prioritized in the Local Control Funding Formula: poverty, language barriers, special needs, and foster care.”

According to Huntington Beach High School’s 2020-2021 SARC (School Accountability Report Card), our student population is made up of “0.5% American Indians or Alaska Natives, 11.8% Asians, 1.2% Black or African Americans, 1.4% Filipinos…” (HBHS Senior and Slick Team Leader Gianna Nguyen would like to point out that Filipinos are Asian so that separation is entirely unnecessary) “… 21.5% Hispanics or Latinos, 0.3% Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders, 7% Mixed People, and 55.7% Whites.” Administrative staff and teacher ethnicity and race statistics are not reported.

HBHS’s school psychologists do not accurately represent the diversity of the students that attend the school, nor do the teachers, nor do the administrative staff. When considering marginalized communities and their individual struggles with growing up in a majority white community, the importance of implementing a diverse school system should make its way to the top priorities of the district.

Data from youthCONNECT says that “students who have a relationship with a caring adult—as well as students who have an adult to talk to about educational and career decisions—are more likely to report strong social and emotional outcomes, avoid risky behaviors, and have better academic outcomes.”

The California Children Now 2020 Report Card goes on to say, “Only 57% of California’s 9th graders report a caring relationship with at least one adult at school.”

Having administrative staff that shares similar life experiences and must overcome similar prejudices against them as students are life-changing, and I do not say that lightly or as some social-justice-warrior-buzzword – a 2018 study shows that “Black students randomly assigned to at least one Black teacher in grades K-3 are 13% more likely to graduate from high school.” An accompanying study also found that Black teachers are less likely than white teachers to report Black students as inattentive, disruptive, and unable to do homework.

Additionally, not only is it important for students of color to have teachers and administrators of color, but it is also beneficial for white students. Not hiring racist teachers will never be as helpful as hiring a diverse staff.

“I want to suggest that there is something that may be even more important than Black students having Black teachers and that is White students having Black teachers! It is important for White students to encounter Black people who are knowledgeable,” says Gloria Ladson-Billings, an African American professor of urban education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in an interview with Education Week. “What opportunities do White students have to see and experience Black competence?”

“I asked [the school psychologists] how to deal [with] the racist kids in my class and they essentially told me to just deal with it and be positive.” – anonymous student

Another issue with how the district treats marginalized students lies in its history of sexual harassment cases – only recently has the HBHS school site updated its tiny Sexual Harassment Policies link at the bottom of the page. For multiple years, the link led to a page that said the website you were looking for does not exist, an extremely disheartening sight for someone trying to report sexual harassment and seek aid from the district. 

Now, the link leads to a collection of HBUHSD non-discrimination policies that the average reader would take one look at the page count and quickly move on. The section for reporting sexual harassment is referred to as “Complaint Procedures,” wording that serves to indirectly plant seeds of doubt and discouragement in the reporter’s mind for being too dramatic.

To the HBUHSD Human Resources team: please fix this error. In a time of confusing social lines, it is understandable how this mistake could have been made, but that does not free you from the consequences of actions. This is an easy fix that would be appreciated by all students of HBUHSD.

“I got catcalled one time and reported it and they did not do anything even though I told them the time and the place and figured they could check the nearby security camera.” – anonymous student

If HBHS truly “[supports] students, staff, and community members’ intersectional rights, including culture, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, language access, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, or any other characteristic protected by applicable state or federal law, so that all members of the community are treated at all times with dignity and respect,” the district needs to prove it through their actions. If “it is inherent in [HBHS’s] campus’s mission and vision to create [a] welcoming, safe and supportive environments for all students, staff[,] and families,” the district needs to prove it through their actions.

The Problem With Psychological Aid at Huntington Beach High School

Students want help, but they do not believe that they will receive the help they need from school psychologists – 29.7% of HBHS students surveyed have been advised by friends to not reach out to the school counselors because of how they handled other crisis situations. That statistic is inexcusable.

As Mr. Feliciani had stated before, students cannot learn effectively if they feel unsafe and uncomfortable in their school – school psychologists play a large role in securing that feeling within students and if they are unable to consistently do that job to the same level of effectiveness each time, this becomes a systemic issue within the district and schooling system as a whole.

So, what is the real root problem here? Everyone loves to blame someone, so who is to blame? To understand it, everyone needs to be aware of how the HBHS psychologist system is set up. 

There are three general guidance counselors available for students to assigned based on last name who assist in choosing classes: Mrs. Bolden manages last names A-E and N-O, Mrs. Vega-Salas manages last names F-M, and Mrs. Anzivino manages last names P-Z. Mrs. Pendergast, Mrs. Bernstein, Mr. Olsen, and Mrs. Do serve as general student support psychologists. Mrs. Chung operates as the school’s general school psychologist and “is here to provide the skills and resources for students to experience success in the areas of academics, postsecondary planning, and social and personal development.” Mrs. Wait-Hubner is in charge of the College and Career Center and Mr. Torres is the registrar who handles transcripts and records. 

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) “recommends a ratio of one school psychologist per 500 students in order to provide comprehensive school psychological services. Current data estimates a national ratio of 1:1,211; however, great variability exists among states, with some states approaching a ratio of 1:5,000. Consequences of the shortages include unmanageable caseloads; the inability for school psychologists to provide prevention and early intervention services or regularly consult with families and teachers; reduced access to mental and behavioral health services for some students; and limited scope of service delivery focused primarily on legally mandated special education practice.”

As of this year, there are 2,954 students enrolled in HBHS. 2,954 people with individual problems that need equal attention. 2,954 human beings that deserve respect and recognition.

Mr. Feliciani says, “1,000 students per psychologist is certainly an overwhelming number. It’s impossible for them to meet the needs of every single student. There are just not enough people to speak to everyone. But everyone would benefit from being able to speak to them.”

Infographic By: Ella Acciacca

“I never open up to any of the staff [because] I’m terrified of them.” – anonymous student

In terms of general guidance, the student consensus of the HBHS system tends to paint how they handle cases adequately. The staff’s aid in such circumstances typically culminates in emailing a student’s teachers about a problem they are having or simply lending a listening ear, and sometimes that is enough. 

The most apparent problems with low-intensity cases can be separated into two categories: the Google Forms sign-up system used is not effective at helping students receive aid and there is a certain attitude from psychologists that unless a student’s life is in danger, there is no real problem present.

To book a time slot with a school counselor, the psych office provides a Google Form link where students can give general details about what they would like to discuss and are then asked to wait patiently for a response. For some students, that response never shows up and thus, the system is deemed useless and the student is marginally less likely to try reaching out again.

Google Forms allows for notifications to be pushed through to an email address, and it is unclear whether or not the psychologists just miss a few in their email accounts, but when it comes to mental health aid, missing calls for help is not an option. 

“I know people who went for help and the counselor cut them off mid-sentence and sent them back to class.” – anonymous student

It is already extremely difficult to reach out for mental health aid. When a student attempts to form that connection towards better help and is met with indifference instead of acceptance and understanding, it can really damage the way that developing minds perceive people who claim to be there for their assistance. 

School psychologists are meant to be available for all varieties of students with all varieties of cases – from consoling someone who got a bad grade on a test to intervening when someone’s life is in danger. With those two extremes present, though the latter is rarer, it sets the precedent for what cases brought to the psychologists should align under. Countless students have been disregarded by staff or brushed to the side because their problems were not extreme enough for concern, which is extremely heartbreaking to experience.

With a subject as fragile as mental health, it is obvious that this system is just plain ineffective in how it operates on a daily basis.

“It sometimes feels like I need to have a dramatic reason that they deem acceptable for struggling.” – anonymous student

A mandated reporter is a person “required by law to report suspected or known instances of abuse.” Teachers, principals, school psychologists, and all other education personnel are required by law to report cases of suspected child abuse and submit a written-up report detailing all the information that they are aware of to social workers. It is against the law to not report suspected cases of child abuse and violators must pay heavy fines and/or jail time.

“Everyone who works at a school is a mandated reporter, so that includes myself, your teachers, even the custodians. We’re all mandated reporters. So that means if there is a suspicion of abuse or neglect or any question of a student’s safety, we are [required by law] to report that” says Kylie Bernstein, HBUHSD wellness specialist. “For example, we would call Child Protective Services (CPS) if there was a student that was being abused at home or if we saw markings that were suspicious or injuries, anything of that nature we would have to make that phone call and [possibly] a referral to law enforcement.”

“When students come in for counseling, my whole spiel is about confidentiality, that everything we talk about is safe and confidential between us in this room: the only exceptions are if someone’s abusing you, you’re going to hurt yourself, or you’re going to hurt someone else,” Bernstein continues. “So in those situations, I must break confidentiality because I am a mandated reporter. If there is something that needs to be shared with the parents, like if a student was having suicidal thoughts, then we would have to make that phone call. Of course, we would talk it through with the student as well… but we would also walk them through why we would have to let the parents know. [We have to] make sure that they are going home to a safe place and that their parents are aware and have resources to take care of them.”

This is what scares away students from seeking help: the idea that they could tell a counselor a little too much information and then suddenly they are thrust into a situation where their parents are called in about their mental health struggles. 

“All that I’ve learned from reaching out to HBHS for support is that if you want something done, you have to do it yourself. The school will usually not work with you.” – anonymous student

“There still is a stigma around mental health and the help that people are receiving, so a lot of people shy away from that, a lot of students don’t do it because they’re afraid the school psychs are going to call their parents even though that’s not their [mission], they only do that if someone’s life is in danger,” says Mr. Feliciani. “Reminding them that they are not here for your parents, they’re here for you, reminding them that they are not going to call home unless you are hurting someone or yourself, so long as that’s not the issue – and if that’s the issue, you need to go talk to them because someone’s life is in danger – so unless it’s a scenario like that, most students are likely afraid of that aspect to it, or even just the fact of asking for help makes people uncomfortable.”

A huge mental hurdle that students need to overcome before seeking help from psychologists is understanding what their actual purpose is – their main concern is keeping you safe, not making you comfortable. They are not the ones to blame for how the follow-up process is set up and unfortunately if the follow-up process is extreme, it is likely needed. I recommend thinking as objectively as possible when giving them information about your issues.

Here is a personal example: I was having a panic attack about college details in January, and I went to Mrs. Pendergast’s office to have a safe place to speak. I had the opportunity to calm down, rant, and seek genuine help through the school. I felt that the counselors genuinely helped me and made me feel more secure in my future. I asked Mrs. Pendergast to not tell my parents, and she did not because it was not an issue that required their attention. That was the end of that situation.

Here is another personal example: In my freshman year, I was called into Mrs. Pendergast’s office because someone had sent in an anonymous report that they were concerned about my mental health. When I had gone into the office, I assured her that I was okay and, though I had said concerning things in the past, I had worked through them and no longer felt that way. I asked her not to tell my parents, but of course, she needed to because a student’s confession of being of sound mind and body is not always the most reliable source of how well they are actually handling their mental health troubles. At the time, I was angry and felt abandoned, but with the gift of foresight and objectivity, I understand why that was the right thing to do. It is about fully taking into account the complexity of the situation and taking definitive action to try to help.

“[If a student asks a psychologist to not tell their parents, the process] will get impacted, just because there are some students that are like “Okay, I’m feeling this way and I’m sharing, but I don’t want my parents to know” and then we have to have that quick conversation of how it’s important that they do know and we have to explain that we are mandated reporters,” says Mrs. Bernstein. “Sometimes I do feel that kind of limits what the student is willing to share and it changes the counseling relationship, but in that moment we have to think of the long-term importance of doing our jobs and keeping you safe. I want to keep your trust but I want to keep you safe and healthy more. That is most important in that moment.”

“If you are in need of support or mental health services or even just a safe place to vent, you can always try to come down and reach out to the staff here because we are available to you and we care about your well-being, so don’t let other people’s opinions shape your own. Try to have your own experience and see how it helps you,” says Mrs. Bernstein. “Even if it doesn’t help, we are totally okay with that and we will gladly point you in the right direction or give you a referral to a place or service that will help. If it’s not me, or Mrs. Pendergast, or Mr. Olsen, or Mrs. Do, then we’ll find you someone else that will work for you. Just know that we are open and we are here.”

The Fear of Reaching Out For Help

When asked if they felt supported by HBHS in regards to their emotional/mental health, 14.3% of students answered yes, 20.6% of students answered no, and a resounding 65.1% of students answered that they have not tried reaching out for help.

This is a problem not limited to just high school students, but for everyone: “A study of over 90,000 people worldwide found that stigma of mental illness is one of the top reasons that they don’t receive care. 12.6% said that they didn’t receive care because their neighbors or community might have a negative opinion. Almost 12% said it was because receiving help might have a negative impact on their job. Another 9% said they didn’t want others to find out.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states, “Without treatment, the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering. Untreated mental health conditions can result in unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide, and poor quality of life.”

Mental healthcare, despite its leaps and bounds in the past decade, is still very stigmatized by society as a whole. There remains an extensive problem with the way that society views those who actively try to better themselves and seek guidance on issues in their life. There is a deeply-rooted belief in our culture that seeking a therapist is selfish and pathetic, or that taking psychiatric medication is going to turn you into an unloveable zombie devoid of any emotion or purpose – but this perception of mental health awareness is inaccurate and unhelpful, especially when considering that statistics show that mental illness cases are only rising higher and higher, especially for students and teenagers.

Infographic by: Ella Acciacca

There is no way to automatically cure yourself of mental illness; mostly everyone knows this, but that fact is extremely difficult to fully accept. The idea behind psychological care is that people should learn tools to properly cope with their emotions and healthily adapt to hardships, big or small. In this process, resilience is built and strategies to escape moments of extreme panic are formed.

“[School is] making me stressed out and I feel like I’m not allowed to develop emotionally outside of school at all.” – anonymous student

Another point of contention that may stop an individual from reaching out for help with their mental health could be the internal fear of verbalizing their problems, thus making them real and unavoidable. The mental healthcare process is so gray and confusing due to the specificity of each individual case, and entering that system with so much uncertainty could turn off people in need of help from trying, opting instead to just live in denial or silent pain.

It is often a common mindset among students that they need to push aside any mental health issues to focus on school and extracurriculars. It is constantly drilled into their developing psyche that they need to become master jugglers and multitaskers if they want to be anything in life. The pressure to get As in class no matter what, the pressure to get into the best college in the country whatever it takes, the pressure to get involved in every extracurricular and leadership activity possible for talking points on applications and resumes – it is no wonder that 84.9% of students are saying they are feeling especially burnt out.

The connection that students have between self-worth and academic success has persisted for years and multiple studies have been conducted to better understand the issue to no avail. A study conducted by Jennifer Crocker, a psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, found that 80% of college freshmen included in the study based their self-worth on their academic competence but “college students who based their self-worth on academic performance did not receive higher grades despite being highly motivated and studying more hours each week than students who did not rate academic performance as important to their self-esteem.”

Everyone deserves to get help with overcoming their issues and everyone deserves to have a safe space to talk about their insecurities and troubles, but at any level that this is sought, whether it is a helpful friend or a licensed psychological professional, the responsibility of regulating yourself and “getting better” is always on you. And when it comes to attaching self-worth to academic performance, it may be a behavior learned or pushed by someone else, but it is still your responsibility to work past it.

“We need to spend more time focusing on our social, emotional well-being. I think students a lot of the time don’t spend the time to give themselves that space to just be students,” Mr. Feliciani says. And I think it’s important to recognize that it’s okay to have a weekend where you don’t do any of your work and you spend it with your friends because if you aren’t being the best you, you’ll never be the best student. We’ve got to fix that first part.”

“I feel drained and overwhelmed constantly and I’m slipping further and further behind and if I want to hang out with friends or take a break it’s like a cost vs. benefits thing, you know? Like, is it worth it to take a break or have fun if I know I’m going to be stressing about homework the whole time?” – anonymous student

Mr. Feliciani says, “It takes a really strong person to acknowledge their feelings, to reflect on their feelings, and then take the even harder step to go to somebody and share with them, “this is how I’m feeling.” So if a student comes to me… they’ve already done multiple impressive things that require a lot of strength and effort and I always make sure I point that out because they need to see how much work they’ve already put in to get to that point. You feel burned out because you feel overwhelmed, so recognizing that you can actually do this, you can break this down, you are not alone, we can work around this together, and trying to find any solution that can help is certainly an option.”

“From an emotional standpoint, all I can ever do, and all any of us can ever do, is just listen,” continues Mr. Feliciani. “Inevitably, all someone is looking for when they are upset is to be heard and seen. And my job as a teacher, and this is something I spend a great majority of my day putting an effort into doing, is that when someone speaks to me, I listen and I make sure I don’t cut them off, I make sure I don’t hurry them through it, and I make sure that I let them finish their point. One of the things that a lot of teenagers experience is the lack of ability to be taken seriously and the lack of ability to be heard. The most important thing I can do as a teacher is [making] sure I see you, I hear you, I make you feel important, and I let you know that I appreciate you sharing with me. Because that’s what we all need.”

Hotlines and Resources Available to You:

Local Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-877-727-4747

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline — 1-800-799-7233

Teen Hotline — 1-800-TLC-TEEN

Inclusive Therapists — database of therapists focusing on people of color, LGBTQ youth, and people with disabilities.

Wellness in Color Podcast — created by the National Alliance on Mental Health Minnesota with a mission to reshape mental health conversations in regard to different cultures.

BEAM, Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective — organization of tools, training, and licensed black therapists available for counseling.

Therapy for Black Girls — website and podcast that offers therapist connections and group chats for the wellness of black women and girls.

Asian American Psychological Association — an organization with resources on Asian trauma, domestic violence, depression, and suicide.

Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Centers — Los Angeles-based organization that connects Asian Americans to counseling and group therapy opportunities.

National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association — an organization with training, self-care tips, and articles for Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians.

The Trevor Project — an organization dedicated to helping members of the LGBTQ community.

National Alliance of Mental Illness, section on People with Disabilities — a page on the NAMI website with a plethora of disabled mental health services.

Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741

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