2014 1st Place Essay Winner

By Eric Shan

Last month, I was fortunate enough to have been able to interview Kevin Breel, a comic who travels across the US to share his story about struggling with mental illness. One of the most vexing things he said that night of his performance was in response to me asking him why schools choose to focus intensively on bullying and stress (and their repercussions) but not so much on the topic of mental health.

“[…] [Mental illness] is something that’s like, ‘Oh you’re the problem? That doesn’t seem right.’  […] For this, it comes down to the individual person, and his struggle,” he responded.

At the time, I just recorded his reply down, and that was that. However, thinking back to what he said, I have come to realize that my high school community is not focusing on mental awareness enough. Recently, we have taken a good amount of action towards teaching students about mental health: inviting Kevin Breel to explore the topic through comedy, featuring articles about it in the school newspaper, providing support from counselors as well as links to helpful websites, and also adding suicide prevention to the freshman curriculum. I believe that these actions are beneficial but only to an extent.

Like Breel said, mental illness is an internal battle. Although aids like support groups are available, many students who suffer do not take advantage of this help because they fear judgment from their community. According to Sonia, a high school senior who has been suffering since she was 15, “The worst part of depression is not depression. The worst part of depression is the reaction at [our school].”

During school, I hear people use the word “depressed” without knowing what being depressed actually is or who might be affected by the word. Students go to events like Kevin Breel’s talk, but they do not stop and think, “What can I do about this?” They carry on with their lives, thinking that just because they are not affected themselves, mental health is not a big deal, but rather something that can be joked about. Students do not realize that there are people in their classes, on their bus, or even in their close circle of friends who are battling but are too afraid to speak up.

Mental health is a serious topic that we students sometimes take too lightly. Because of this indifferent attitude, close ones who suffer lose someone they can talk to, and more consequentially, they also lose confidence in themselves. We often think of those people as “time [bombs][…] and then never bring up the subject [of mental health] again,” says Sonia. Although my school is making progress towards complete mental awareness, students need to also realize that it is okay if people are flawed, and we should want to help them through this time. Rather than just LGBTQ rights and prevention of racism, mental health is something that we need to realize is also a real concern which needs our support as well.

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