What is the School Doing About Teen Mental Health Issues?


Agatha Hunnicutt

Over the past year and a half, a lot has happened. In our ever-changing world, it’s completely natural if the COVID-19 pandemic and its myriad of effects have taken a toll on your mental health. It’s been especially difficult for teens to cope with everything happening. We’ve had to adjust to online learning and spending more time at home without our friends. And now, we have to re-adjust to school in person, which isn’t easy.

While adjusting to these new conditions, we have also had to handle schoolwork, extracurriculars, and staying in touch with our friends. Many teens have been forced to become more independent and mature to deal with all of that, which often results in even more stress. Additionally, parents have also been more anxious lately due to changes in their kids’ school routines and the general uncertainty of the pandemic. This can create a more tense environment for teens at home, adding even more to their problems and anxieties.

A recent article by Mental Health America stated that “9.7% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression, compared to 9.2% in last year’s [2020] dataset.” And with a current U.S. population of around 330 million, that’s about 32 million teens (ages 11-17) with severe major depression. On top of that, less than 50% of those teens are receiving treatment. 

Depression and other mental health issues can lead to suicide; an article by Kansas State University states that “Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 24. Over half of all youth who suffer from depression will attempt suicide at least once, and more than seven percent of these will die as a result.”

As you can see, mental health is a major issue for teens, and it’s important that students and teachers do something about it. West High school has an amazing club, called the Hope Squad, that puts a spotlight on teen mental health. I interviewed Cash Mendenhall, the president of Hope Squad, to get more information on the club.

“Hope Squad is a youth peer-to-peer suicide prevention group. We focus on grassroots efforts to raise mental health awareness and help peers who may be struggling with mental health and suicide within the West community,” Cash said during the interview. He talked about the work that Hope Squad does: “Throughout the year, we do a lot of trainings including with U of U professors to make our members really experienced and good peer-to-peer suicide prevention advocates. And then we also do a variety of initiatives to raise awareness around mental health and suicide.” Cash also mentioned an event they do in the spring called “Hope Week,” where club memebers promote suicide prevention through social media, flyers, and activities during lunch.

Hope Squad meets every Friday from 3:15-3:45 in Ms. Reynolds’ room (room C408). The club is open to any student who wants to join, including ELPers. Hope Squad is doing great work for our community, so if you want to get involved, come to their meetings!

The Salt Lake City School District is also working with Odyssey House, an organization focused on helping Salt Lake residents through therapy, to offer free telehealth school-based therapy to any student who isn’t covered by health insurance or Medicaid. These same services are available to students with health insurance and Medicaid, but need to be accessed through their own health coverage. 

This is a great opportunity for any student that is struggling with mental health issues. Interim Superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District, Larry Madden, spoke about the district’s partnership with Odyssey House. “Caring for the whole child is a top priority for our district, and we are thrilled to announce this new partnership with Odyssey House to help us better care for our students’ mental health needs,” he said in an interview.

If you want to learn more about the program, go to: https://www.slcschools.org/news/news-details/~board/salt-lake-city-school-district-news/post/telehealth-school-based-therapy. You can also access this information by searching “Telehealth School-based Therapy” on the Salt Lake City School District website. 

It’s extremely important for teens to be aware of their mental health so they can get help when they need it. Mental health isn’t talked about nearly enough. It should be addressed more often, especially with teens. If you’re interested in joining Hope Squad, I highly recommend you attend their after school meetings every Friday in room C408. And, if you want to receive telehealth therapy, please look into signing up through the Salt Lake City School District.