The Invisible Epidemic

Allie Schweigert, Job Writer

Often called a silent sickness, depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders leave their sufferers in a lonely silence. This is due in part to the stigma surrounding mental health that discourages discussion and downplays the severity of the issue. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, many mental health disorders first present themselves during adolescence and near 20 percent of adolescents have a diagnosable mental disorder. With these statistics, it is imperative that students here at BBCHS are aware of the signs and symptoms of mental disorders and the resources the school has to offer.

Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School currently employs counselors and social workers to assist in student counseling. Jennifer Swank, LCSW, is one of these Licensed Clinical Social Workers employed by BBCHS to assist students in need. Swank encounters students dealing with a variety of mental health disorders and is met too often with the stigma surrounding depression. This stigma occurs because depression and other mental illnesses often don’t present the physical ailments society deems excusable. Swank expresses, “The stigma is a major barrier for those who are struggling to get the help they need – despite the fact that there are treatments and resources available for living a healthy, satisfying, and productive life.” This causes further isolation as people with major anxiety and depressive disorders are met with dangerous but popular phrases such as “just be happy” or “snap out of it.”

Much of the stigma comes from a lack of information about these illnesses. Swank comments, “By raising awareness to depression and other mental health issues, we are better equipped to recognize when students are struggling and take steps to ensure they are connected to potentially life-saving resources.”

Many of these resources are available through BBCHS’ Counseling Office. The school employs counselors and social workers among others who are available to help students. Teachers and other school workers are encouraged, and many times required, to reach out to counselors if they see a student in need. However, it is imperative that these students advocate for themselves, a feat much harder for those struggling with the loneliness that accompanies mental illnesses. Swank says she wishes all students knew that, “We are here for you!  Our counseling office is always a place for students to go if they are struggling.  If your counselor is not available, then put your name on the sign-up sheet so your counselor knows you were there and can send a pass for you.” If the problem is urgent, there are also steps that can be taken if the urgency is expressed to those working in counseling.

Just as there is a wide variety of problems students face throughout high school, there are various levels of help they will need. The Counseling Office is an invaluable asset to BBCHS students and yet many are not aware of its resources. These counselors and social workers are equipped with the knowledge to help with problems ranging from stress and anxiety to eating disorders and depression. Every person can be helped by being educated about mental illnesses. Swank says, “I wish people understood just how common mental illness is and how much of an important role mental health plays in one’s ability to learn, have healthy relationships, and function throughout the day.  Good mental health doesn’t mean you are free of a diagnosed mental illness…good mental health is more about self-care.” It is this self care the workers in and out of the Counseling Office promote to all students and faculty. Hopefully by spreading awareness of the resources supplied to students by BBCHS, the reach of these counselors will expand helping an increased number of students get the help they need to succeed both academically and socially.