This winter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the findings from
their 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The survey gathers data on behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems in American youth including poor mental health and substance abuse. The CDC noted alarming increases in the percentage of students who felt persistently sad or hopeless (42 percent) and students who seriously considered committing suicide (22 percent). These numbers are considerably higher for certain groups like girls and members of the LGBQ+ community. The CDC did not gather data on transgender youth.
At Sherwood, staff and students are experiencing the rise in poor mental health firsthand.
Sherwood’s mental health specialist, Knychole Brock, recently put out an optional survey capturing students’ mental well-being. Of the 41 student respondents, 66 percent identified depression and anxiety as issues that Sherwood students are facing. Counselor Jamii Avery has worked at Sherwood for seventeen years. In the last several years, she’s noticed an increase in the number of students who come to her office with a wider scope of concerns. “At first, it was mostly LGBTQ+ [students] then it turned into a lot of anxiety with the high performers who were pushing themselves and didn’t need to as much as they were, and now it’s everybody,”
There isn’t one cause for the rising rates of poor mental health. Avery, Brock, and the student
leaders of Sherwood’s mental health club, Warrior Minds Matter, identified a number of different
causes. Nationally, the pandemic has been considered a major contributor to poor youth mental health. In 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General declared a youth mental health
crisis as a result of the pandemic. Brock, who was brought on in October as a part of Montgomery
County’s Bridge to Wellness program, explained that the program was born out of MCPS’s
need for additional ways to support students’ mental health after the pandemic. “When you’re in a pandemic, problems arise that you knew you had before but you didn’t know how to address. So
[Montgomery County] came up with Bridge to Wellness, to bridge this gap,” explained Brock.
Having difficulty connecting with peers about mental health is another factor. The president of
Warrior Minds Matter, junior Eric Ishekwene, said it can be difficult to connect with peers when discussing mental health. “In Sherwood, it’s very hard to get participation from students because
people don’t feel like they can be heard,” said Ishekwene.
Avery also attributed the increase in poor mental health to the rise in social media usage by
students. “They’re watching a lot of people they don’t know but they’re not realizing that these
people doctor their photos. They only post the good things. They don’t post the bad things. So it
makes [students] feel bad about themselves because they’re only looking at all of these positive
things that everyone else is posting,” said Avery.
While these new numbers of poor mental health are alarming, Brock did acknowledge the possibility that poor mental health was likely a larger problem in the past than was reported because there was more reluctance to discuss mental health. “Students may not have the right words for it, but they’re slapping labels on things now. These feelings have probably been there for years, but now people are more comfortable with [discussing mental health],” said
Brock. “Sherwood students are starting to ask for help.”
While the student leaders of the Warrior Minds Matter club agree that more students have an
openness to discuss their mental health than in the past, they still see room for improvement, especially for certain groups of students. “As a man, it’s very hard to find someone who is open to talking about mental health. And if you talk about mental health, a lot of times you’re viewed as
weak,” said Ishekwene. “People are scared to talk about [men’s mental health struggles] because
they think that it’s something that you have to deal with yourself.”
Club secretary senior Caroline Hartman and student representative sophomore Paloma
Illanes also noted that not all students have the privilege to seek resources outside of school like
therapy, which can make it difficult for them to treat and address their mental health.
At school, Brock, Avery, and the student leaders of Warrior Minds Matter stressed the importance of finding a community and utilizing available resources. Avery encouraged students to find trusted adults and reach out to their counselors. Brock is available in room 265S in the upper C hall as an additional trusted adult that students can turn to for counseling,
financial assistance, and mentoring. Warrior Minds Matter hosts meetings that are open to all students to talk with their peers about mental health.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis call or text 988, the Montgomery County 24/7 Hotline.