High school has plenty of challenges. Making new friends is tough. Balancing your schoolwork, social life, and interests is tough. Getting enough sleep is tough.
To some degree, these challenges are unavoidable, but we make it through, for better or worse. For thousands of students in Colorado and millions across the country, however, there is a bigger challenge. Not only do they have to experience all of those things, but they have to do it while battling the constant, overwhelming weight of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
I know what it’s like to bear that weight, as do many of my friends, and many of their friends in turn. We know that teens are struggling with mental health challenges at a far higher rate than their predecessors. Too often, young people are left to deal with their problems on their own. Afraid that our problems “aren’t bad enough” to seek professional help, we often keep it bottled up inside, where it only gets worse.
Even if a student can get over the hurdles in their own head and the social stigmas around seeking care, they often run into even more problems. Much of healthcare in America today remains an uneven playing field, and mental health is no exception. People with higher incomes and better insurance can afford to find therapists or counselors on their own.
I was one of the lucky ones whose parents had health insurance to cover my care. I was even luckier that one of my parents could take time out of their day to help me get to and from my appointments. Most are not so lucky.
With the right changes, however, a huge difference can be made for teens who need help.
There is a bill in our state General Assembly right now that would, if passed, create a mental health screening program for grades 6 through 12. Under the proposed legislation, professionals would be able to assess students’ mental wellbeing, taking the pressure off kids to evaluate themselves. If a screening determines that further action is needed, they can notify a parent or connect the student with accessible mental health resources such as the ‘I Matter’ program.
‘I Matter’ can connect kids with therapists for free, in-person or online. This makes a world of difference for students and families — even if it’s a few initial sessions — because of how much it can help just to have someone to talk to or someone in your corner.
It’s deeply frustrating that most American kids must struggle to get the care they need and deserve. The fact that I am able to sit here and write this today is because I am one of the privileged ones. As someone who was able to get help, I know the tremendous good it does, and I am passionate about helping make that help available to as many kids as possible.
Legislation like this is extremely important for students, especially the ones without the means to access care. If this bill passes, it will positively affect thousands of kids. It will mean that fewer kids will have to ride the school bus riddled with anxiety or shuffle through the halls worn down by depression, all the while wondering if this is normal or whether something’s really wrong. It shouldn’t be on them to jump through hoops, and, with this legislation, it won’t have to be.
It’s high time we start putting mental health in schools at the forefront. By taking simple steps, not only can we end the suffering of countless kids across the state, but we can set the example for how American schools should provide for their students.
Izzie House, of Denver, is a junior at East High School.
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