Student shares experience with mental illness

Lance Staff Writer, Alex Vandenberg


Throughout the years, society has been covering up mental illness and consequently creating a stigma, deeming it abnormal and unacceptable to talk about. Due to the lack of communication, mental health isn’t acknowledged much, despite how prevalent it is within Westside’s student population. In the United States, one in five students aged 13 to 18 experience a severe mental disorder, and barely half of those children received treatment within the last year.


Mental illnesses affect a variety of individuals and anyone could have an encounter with an ailment: the cashier at the grocery store, the professional athlete everyone idolizes, even your best friend. Mental health varies from person to person, but Westside needs to speak openly about it and one student was more than willing to share her story.


Molly* is a sophomore who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by excessive worrying about several aspects of life. Not only does Molly have to worry about her education, but balancing sports, music, a social life and religious activities along with that can be a hassle. Molly’s GAD magnifies the stress. “It’s just harder to deal with being at school for seven hours and having to do [what feels like] ten thousand hours of homework after school along with all of my extracurricular activities,” Molly said.


“It’s just a lot and it builds up so I just feel like I don’t have time for a lot of stuff. I feel like I spend more time stressing about things than actually doing them.”


A lot of teens experience some sort of mental disorder stemming from an event going on in their lives or being overwhelmed by their surroundings, but some are born with their condition. Molly’s anxiety has become more obvious within the last few years.


“I think it’s because of the pressure, mainly that I put on myself, but also for my family members to do well in high school to get into a good college, to go on and be successful in life,” Molly said. “I’m pretty sure I put more pressure on myself than they put on me, but it kinda adds up and then I’m putting pressure on myself [thinking] it’s my family putting pressure on me, but then I realize that it’s really me putting pressure on myself.”


Many mental illnesses can alter one’s perception of themself or their peers.


“I don’t think [my anxiety] negatively impacts the way I view myself,” Molly said. “Sometimes I feel like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t have time to do everything’ and it makes me frustrated because I have so much I want to do, so much I want to learn. Sometimes it makes me frustrated with others because I’m just trying to figure things out. I’m trying to figure out how to get everything done in the right amount of time and then still figure out how to have to time to take a nap or watch Netflix or hang out with my friends. In some situations, I just have to take a look and get some perspective [on what’s going on] and it makes more sense. I don’t know, it’s just [annoying] because it kind of feels like the world’s after you and you can’t get stuff done.”


Ever since Molly noticed that she had more anxiety than other kids, she’s been finding ways to keep it under control and combat it.


“This summer, I [worked on] trying to live in the moment and not worry about the past or the future and just try to enjoy what I’m doing at the time,” says Molly. “I’m trying to enjoy spending time with my family and friends and not worry about anything else. You can just waste a lot of time worrying about things that don’t really matter.”


Molly said she is well aware of the negativity associated with mental illnesses and she wants to help those who are afraid to seek help or assess the issue.


“Try and find what works for you because certain things work for different people and definitely don’t think that there’s a stigma around [mental illness],” Molly said. “If it’s really severe and you think it’s affecting you in a really negative way, get help because it could take a really dark path and that’s really scary. I want everybody at Westside to be happy so they can avoid suffering and get some help.”


Graphic by Lili Fogland


District partnership provides mental health resources

Designer in Chief, Managing Editor, Julia Steiner and Malia Battafarano


As a two-time National Blue Ribbon School award winner, Westside is well known for its academic excellence. In addition to exceeding educational standards, however, the district is also making an effort to meet the mental health care needs of students.


Westside’s Guidance Department’s collaboration with Children’s Behavioral Health began in the 2015-2016 school year, when Children’s Hospital approached the school about the possibility of establishing a partnership. Previously, Westside worked with Arbor Family Services to help provide mental health resources for students.


Through the partnership, called the Student Assistance Program (SAP), Children’s gives staff and parents training on mental health issues. So far they have covered several topics, including anxiety and depression. The training also includes lessons called “brown bag lunches,” where Children’s employees give teachers mini-lessons on specific mental health topics during lunch breaks.


In addition, SAP allows any student attending school in the district to receive two free therapy appointments at Children’s. Last year, this was expanded to include on-site appointments at the high school. Every Friday morning, Kim Vogel, a psychologist from Children’s, comes to Westside and sees students in need of help. Students set up meetings with the therapist through their counselor or dean. According to Assistant Principal Aaron Bredenkamp, each week, Vogel gets the opportunity to meet with six students for about a half hour each.


Having access to a therapist at Westside High School helps eliminate barriers, such as money, transportation and time, that may have prevented students from receiving mental health care in the past.


“For some students and some parents, the ability just to get to an appointment is the hurdle they can’t get over, and so we wanted to make sure that we could still provide those resources to families that were unable to access them outside of the school,” Bredenkamp said.


The partnership also provides additional support for counselors treating students’ mental health.


“It’s nice to have a backup,” Guidance Department Chair and Post-Secondary Counselor Vicki Londer said.


According to Kami Jessop, district director of Special Services, the money for SAP comes out of the general budget, where it has been incorporated for about eight years. Bredenkamp said that having funding from the general budget is beneficial because, unlike a program funded by a grant, the district can count on receiving the money each year to retain SAP.


The district plans to spend around $40,000 to $46,000 per year on the program. That sum includes the cost of parent and staff training and onsite hours at the high school. Part of that cost is also based on student enrollment. The cost per student in the district for the program is about $6.


Between 120 and 180 students take advantage of the program per year, according to Jessop. Vogel and psychologist Ashley Harlow, who is in charge of the SAP on Children’s side, said in an email that they believe the number of kids in need of mental health resources is greater now than in the past.


“Life is more hectic and heavily scheduled for kids, and demands from home, school, and extracurriculars are higher,” Vogel and Harlow said. “Technology allows kids to be plugged in and exposed to social media at a much higher and often inescapable rate, which can lead to skewed perceptions of reality.”


Vogel and Harlow said that they have seen results in students due to the therapy.


“Students have experienced a broad range of benefits,” Vogel and Harlow said. “For instance, students who have taken part in the SAP sessions have made strides in building coping skills to address a variety of interpersonal and academic stressors. Other students have learned effective ways to communicate with parents and teachers and have developed organizational strategies to promote academic success. Some students and caretakers have attended family therapy sessions at the outpatient clinic. We have seen improved family functioning and have assisted caretakers in helping students use coping skills.”


According to Bredenkamp, collaboration between schools and mental health providers has become more common over the years. Westside’s specific program setup, however, is more unique due to the close collaboration between the organizations. According to Jessop, the familiarity that has developed between Westside and Children’s staff has made communication easier within the parternship.


“With Westside, I know that I have three or four Children’s Hospital employees that I work with, whereas [at] other school districts in other places, it’s kind of the luck of the draw, like you get whoever answers the phone,” Jessop said. “So we’re very fortunate to have that.”


Bredenkamp and Jessop agreed that the partnership has been going well so far and they want it to continue to grow in the future.


“I think it’s important to us that we continue program expansion and to keep our finger on the pulse of the needs of students, teachers, families and the community,” Jessop said.


To further the program, Jessop suggested having more on-site therapy time and to continue with staff and parent training.


As long as the resources are available, Bredenkamp said he hopes students feel free to access them.


“I hope students know that the resource is out there and that they access it,” Bredenkamp said. “The thing I always share is a lot of times going to see someone, going to see a mental health provider, comes with [stigmas]; students feel like it’s a bad thing, and I don’t think that’s true at all. If you had a cold, you would go see a doctor. So if you’re going through some things that are blocking you from being able to focus on your education, then you need to go and take part of this partnership. It’s there as a resource and students should access it.”




The effect of therapy on self respect



I have always had a problem with bottling up my emotions. I never told anyone how I was feeling because I either thought I was burdening the people I told, that no one actually cared, or my problems would be considered ‘stupid’. I had lost a major part of my self- respect which started to make a difference on how I acted around people, I would get in huge fights with my parents that resulted in crying and really I couldn’t even tell my mom the last time I felt genuinely happy. My mom mentioned the idea of me getting a therapist but I ignored it at first, not being open to it at all. Little did I know at the time, talking to someone would’ve improved my mental health significantly. Cognitive therapy is a huge part of solving problems that leads to loss of self respect. Cognitive Therapist Brenda McIlnay says that having a therapist is a huge part of making recovery.


“Therapy is one of those things where first of all, it allows you a safe place without judgment to be able to share your thoughts.” McIlnay said. “Anything that was traumatic or you know your deepest feeling and kind of feel like they’re going to be held and not betrayed.”


As summer came around, I suffered with problems I saw in myself. I was having issues with self confidence, friends, and burnt myself out of the sport I have been doing since I was seven. I had completely lost my self respect. I took my anger out on my parents, becoming incredibly irritable and spending a lot of my time in my room, away from the things that would annoy me. I was always miserable, crying all the time, regretting things I had done. I had it set in my brain that everything that was going wrong was my fault. I thought the misery I was feeling was never going to go away, I knew I needed to talk to someone.


“The most important thing about therapy is trust,” McIlnay said. “You have to have therapeutic trust with someone or else you’re not going to get anywhere with therapy. When you’re out in the real world, you can actually practice [the skills learned] and try them and learn to self soothe or make better decisions even when you’re upset. Or how to tolerate frustration, anxiety or anger in a better way. It’s all about skills.”


McIlnay says that she thinks therapy can work in all situations if the patient is willing to cooperate, if a patient does not think that they are the problem or that they have a problem, there is less probability of change.


“I think therapy is effective when people are coming in to see me that they truly are not at a good place, they don’t like the way they’re thinking or feeling and they want to develop those skills.” McIlnay said.


When I went to my first session with McIlnay, I was nervous. I was so out of my comfort zone, I had never opened up to someone before. As I started talking to her and answering questions, I was fidgeting with anything I could get my hands on. Once I realized that everything I said to her was safe and staying in the room, I became more comfortable. The feeling of being able to talk to someone about everything I was going through was so relieving. McIlnay told me that I had moderate depression, which did not surprise me. McIlnay gave me two choices, I could go to therapy every week or take anti-depressants along with still going to therapy but seeing her less. She explained to me that therapy was all about learning skills and the medications would help speed up the progress of recovery.

“I think therapy sometimes takes a little longer to maybe get to feeling better than the medicine” McIlnay said, “But I also think that the benefits last way longer than just medicine, and you are less likely to have another phase of depression and anxiety if you have gone through therapy and got the skills.”

McIlnay said that self-respect plays a role in everything a person does, such as interacting with others, performance in sporting events, or future interactions. She said that although issues with self-respect are huge, it does not always trigger depression and/or anxiety.


“[Depression and Anxiety] goes in and actually changes the way people interpret or see themselves and other people.” McIlnay said. “A lot of times, they’re reality has become so skewed that they think very negative or very self critical or they jump to these conclusions. [Then] a lot of people on the outside are like ‘we can’t believe that they’re thinking this way, it doesn’t make sense’, well, that’s how tricky depression and anxiety can be.”


McIlnay has helped me learn a lot about myself which has impacted my self-respect. Even after just seven sessions with her, I have noticed a huge improvement in myself from all the skills we have worked on. Cognitive therapy can make a huge difference in a person’s mental health.


“People today, along with the social media things, feel like they’re the only ones that feel this way or that everybody else out there is having this great life and all of these great experiences and you look through social media,” McIlnay said. “Unplug for awhile, put that stuff away and know that you’re not alone. That most of those same pictures or people that you’re looking at they have a different set of things that they’re probably working on and it’s not just you.”



Mental health and physical health are of equal importance

Lance Subscription Manager, Tristan Newman


I break health down into two separate categories – two which are fairly different. First, there is my physical health. Physical health is evident for many. I am able to tell when other people are feeling sick and other people are able to tell when I am sick. I may not be able to diagnose them but, at the very least I can tell when someone is physically ill. It’s fairly simple. Second, there is mental health. As advanced as we think we are when it comes to diagnosing our friends based on what we think is something. Similar to physical health, I am not able to diagnose your problem. Odds are, your friends are wrong. However, I can tell when something is wrong. The clear difference between mental and physical health comes down to awareness. We are capable of being equally aware of both these types of health. Each type of health’s  important though needs to be the same.


Katie McDonald, mental health practitioner and nationally certified counselor from Alliance Counseling Center LLP is an advocate for mental health.


“Each person’s mental health is different. I think that most people are should really just looking for a way to relax and calm themselves,” said McDonald. “Meditation really helps. Even something like writing out your thoughts on paper just to get what you want to say out there helps a lot.”


Many have ways to get help if they need it. What someone can do for someone else goes a longer way. That first starts with seeking out an adult. And perhaps, beyond that, being a supportive friend. Regardless of who you are, you should take action of some sort and be there for people.


Needless to say, too many of us are hard on ourselves. While saying simply that does not solve all of our problems, it starts a discussion amongst ourselves. The theme of that discussion needs to be that being critical of ourselves constantly is not healthy.


“This attitude leads to depression and overwhelming stress which starts to consume you. Seeking help from an adult you trust or just someone you trust is what we really want kids to do.”


The key reason that both mental health and physical health are equally important is because both a necessary to sustain ourselves in the real world. If our mental health is not strong then it ultimately eats us away socially. We can help settle someone’s obstacles if we lend out a sincere helping hand – acting as a supportive role for them. A genuinely good person, should try to make some sort of an effort to see that a person is mentally and physically well. Our obligation as strangers and friends alike is to help people be both mentally and physically healthy, for the betterment of the individual.




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