North Penn taking students’ mental health seriously

TOWAMENCIN- All across the world, teenagers struggle with their mental health. This becomes an issue of increasing magnitude every year, especially during the school year. Going to school causes much stress and anxiety, which roots from the pressure under which students find themselves on a daily basis. With several hours of work, increased pressure for college, problems at home, and the lasting impact of social media, people rarely have time to focus on their own mental state.

It is time we finally shine light on this crisis and help others deal with their mental health. Too often, people do not take mental illnesses seriously, which makes reaching out for help difficult. Teens who struggle with their mental illnesses feel isolated because it has become the norm to ignore the real issue and label others “crazy.”

This is not okay.

According to Mental Health America, the rates of youth diagnosed with depression have increased from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. Of those 8.2%, 76% of are left with untreated or insufficiently treated depression.Yet, we continue to ignore this problem.

“We get so much work that it causes us to be super stressed, then we don’t have any time to take care of ourselves mentally,” a North Penn student said, who preferred not to be identified.

Based on the studies at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, symptoms, such as lack of concentration or failure to make it through the whole school day, may be the result of a mental illness. Understanding this better will improve the education system and provide students with the help that they need.

Teachers seem to get frustrated with students who tend to slack off with their homework and fail assessments, but it is important for them to understand the potential other side to the story. While it is understandable why teachers would become upset, the students feel stressed and anxious coming to class.

“Adults seem to think that it’s just our generation being dramatic because it was never taken seriously before,” another North Penn student said under the condition of anonymity.

Dr. Jenna Rufo, North Penn assistant superintendent, has implemented a new program which specifically focuses on the mental health of students. Making this work will essentially take that pressure and stress off of these students to go through their issues alone. After seeing concerns across the board, she feels that it is very important to support students not only academically, but also emotionally and socially.

You could be whatever age, race, economic status, and it’s something that, in the past, has had a stigma. We want try to erase that stigma so that people that need help feel like they can get it

— Dr. Jenna Rufo, Asst. Superintendent - NPSD

“I think that in terms of mental health, it is something that touches everybody,” Rufo explained. “You could be whatever age, race, economic status, and it’s something that, in the past, has had a stigma. We want try to erase that stigma so that people that need help feel like they can get it.”

Rufo thinks it is important that children, especially at a young age, get the help they need before they slip through the crack. Noticing the behavior, both internally and externally, is the key to helping these people. Internal coping tends to lead to withdraw, which is why most people do not see the red flags with this type of behavior. External coping can be acting out verbally and physically. Catching these warning signs can help student significantly.

Students who go through partial and overnight mental health treatment are also a main concern. Rufo explained that these students have to go from such a high level of treatment and restrictive placement to seamlessly going back to a school filled with over 3,000 people.

“We wanted to put some type of tool in place for teachers to identify the risk factors, so this will better help us catch these students,” Rufo said.

Giving people a safe and healthy environment to talk about issues is also something Rufo stressed. Teachers and other mentors who can build relationships with these students will make them feel more safe and secure, given that talking about your own mental illness is not always easy to talk about.

“One of the things we’re doing this year with the teachers is visiting other programs. We are visiting more restrictive and therapeutic programs and other public school districts that have these supports in place,” Rufo said as she was expanding on the work that her team is doing to give resources. “We get to see it in a different perspective and take what you like to build it into North Penn and make it the best that it can be.”

This year, she has implemented a program called Schoolwide Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports. There are now teachers at the younger levels whose purpose serves to approach behavior as you would in academics. These teachers explicitly teach the behavior and take a more instructional point of view.

“We don’t want to come in thinking that children know how to do certain things. We have a diverse community here and they come from schools that may not learn behavior the way we do. Providing these supports and rewarding the positive will help them understand. We need to have a common language so that everyone is working towards the same goal,” Rufo explained.

With such an increase in mental illness, it is crucial to get the necessary help and support. North Penn now has the Student Assistance Program (SAP), which lets students and teachers voice their concerns about someone they are worried about. This is a way for others to provide support and have someone to get them through difficult times.

“I think that you just have to realize that you’re not alone. There’s so many people that are going through the same thing,” Rufo said. “It’s easy to feel isolated sometimes. It’s like a runaway train, you start thinking of one thing and then it spirals and gets worse. Part of what we want kids to know is that there is people that care for you. We want people to feel like they can reach out.”

We need to erase this stigma. Being open to helping others is extremely vital, especially when depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses have increased significantly. Honestly, Dr. Rufo’s ideas and systems is what we need in a world where it is so hard to be honest about your thoughts.

Please know that if you are going through anything, you will NEVER be alone. There are so many people, including me, that would be glad to assistance of any kind. Be strong and resilient. Don’t worry about what others say, you can speak up.

Here are some resources to help you or a loved one going through a difficult time:

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-4357

Trevor HelpLine / Suicide Prevention for LGBTQ+ Teens: 1-866-488-7386

Teenline (Teens helping teens): 310-855-4673 or text TEEN to 839863