Since the start of COVID-19 quarantining in March, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Help Line has seen an increase of 65 percent in calls and emails. Suicide rates also spiked during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, and in 2003 in Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic. There’s a clear pattern here — isolation from the outside world affects our mental health.
September was suicide prevention month. However, the school did not formally address it — no announcements, no assemblies, nothing. The stigma around suicide is immense, so it’s a hard topic to educate people on, especially students. However, it’s necessary. Within recent years rates have risen, especially among youths. In 2018, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported suicide as being the second most leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10-34.
Suicide is understandably a sensitive topic for lots of people, so the student services team at HHS — consisting of the school’s social workers, the school psychologist and school counselors — has to be careful when going about it. Every year, the team conducts a presentation in the auditorium on suicide prevention, typically during September. This September was an exception due to social distancing guidelines. The PowerPoint presented helps to teach students what to do in case they ever encounter or if they themselves ever have a mental health crisis. ACT NOW brochures are also handed out at the presentation. As of right now, there are no assemblies scheduled, but the student services team is “working on it.”
“One of the things we emphasize is that if a student is experiencing any type of mental health issue, there is support here on campus that they can go and find,” social worker Essie Giraud said. Giraud is on campus full-time, while her partner, Arelis Cespedes, is at school two and a half days a week.
Another way to get help is to request a pass from a teacher to go to the guidance office, where you can then talk with a guidance counselor, a school psychologist or a social worker. They can be found in room 113.
However, not everyone is comfortable with non-anonymously talking to someone about their mental health issues. When this is the case, the guidance office recommends calling 211, a crisis hotline, or (813) 272-4787, a mental health support line which can be found on the Hillsborough County district website.
Students aren’t the only ones who participate in assemblies — teachers do as well. “The information presented to them allows them to be aware of possible signs of a mental health struggle from students in the classroom. It also lets them know what role they can take in reporting or seeking help for a student that comes to them,” Giraud said.
Some students, however, don’t feel that the school guidance system is doing enough. “All the school does is tell us that we have a psychologist on campus. They don’t tell the students anything about ways to reach her or possible reasons to talk to her,” senior Allha Akrami said.
Giraud, on the other hand, had a reminder for students: “We are here, and we do care.”