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Mental Illness & High School

Posted Nov 10 2008 3:14pm


Last Week…LOTS of Change.

In addition to my full engagement in the sweeping changes in American politics and government, I met with the faculty at Sabino High School in Tucson, Arizona. Change is evident there as well. Ten years ago, despite myriad attempts, I couldn’t get a single high school administrator to consider an in-service on anything related to mental health. This school year they came to me.

The topic: An Educator’s Guide to Adolescent Mental Illness.

Because the average age of onset for most mental health issues is seventeen, high school teachers, coaches and counselors are often the first to recognize developing problems. The more they know, the better the outcome for the 10% - 20% of their student population destined to develop a serious mental illness (major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or an anxiety disorder).

Kudos to the faculty at Sabino, and others like them, who, despite increasing demands and declining community support,  proactively seek knowledge and strategies to benefit the kids in their charge.

In addition to asking on-point questions and relating discussion topics to their particular students, Sabino staff members reviewed the most common signs of emerging mental illness.

These include:

- Alcohol and/or drug abuse

- Withdrawal from normal or previously pleasurable activities

- Undue, continuing anxiety or worry

- Too much or too little sleep

- Extreme high or low feelings or moods

- Tension-caused physical problems (backaches, headaches, jaw clenching, stomachaches)

- Excessively strong feelings of anger, guilt, or remorse

- Persistent negative or overblown positive self-image or outlook

- Substantial, rapid weight gain or loss

- Self-harm (cutting, burning, head-banging, punching walls)

We also talked about the many myths about mental illness that still pervade common thought, what educators can do to make a positive difference in the lives of vulnerable students; and when and how to communicate concerns and observations with parents.

This faculty and their administration were engaged, interested and determined to increase understanding and improve skills when dealing with challenging students. I’m excited to know that education is working, stigma is dying, and mental health issues are being addressed and not ignored.

Change has come.

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