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Middle-High School Principal's Page

A Message from Mr. Matthew Peterson, MHS Principal
Addressing the Mental Health Crisis in Schools

I’m not sure I can recall a time in my life where groups of people are so
polarized and divided on so many issues. I recognized, after having a
conversation with a friend of mine the other day, that one of those
societal divisions is generational, where older people have the
impression that younger people are “soft.” Have you ever heard or used
the phrase, “In my day we took care of bullying by…(insert aggressive
action here)”? Perhaps you’ve seen a Facebook meme mocking the use
of “safe spaces” in schools. Maybe you’ve heard someone say “suck it up
buttercup” to someone who is expressing depression or anxiety. At the
heart of these statements (and similar ones) is a total misunderstanding
about the mental health issues facing youth today. Call me soft all you’d
like but the reality is, being a student in 2019 is really REALLY hard.
I’ll concede that being a student has always been really hard, but today there is a national recognition of the variety of
“stressors” that exist for kids and more importantly, a push to develop coping mechanisms to overcome them. This
awareness surrounding “mental health” has led to a long overdue push to remove the stigma behind mental illness and
teach young people how to talk openly about what ails them.
According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as a state of well‐being in which every individual
realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to
make a contribution to their community. Fully embracing this definition requires a cultural shift that views mental
health as an integral part of overall health. Recognizing the urgency for mental health education, New York State
Education Department has responded with guidelines for embedding Mental Health “literacy” in schools. Those
guidelines include (1) an understanding how to obtain and maintain good mental health; (2) decreasing stigma related
to mental health; (3) enhancing help‐seeking efficacy (know when, where, and how to obtain good health with skills to
promote self‐care); and (4) understanding mental disorders (i.e., anxiety, depression) and treatments.
Schools must be aware of and be prepared to address the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on an
individual’s overall health. ACEs are stressful or traumatic events that can lead to social, emotional and cognitive
impairment, which, in turn, can lead to the adoption of high‐risk behaviors, suicide, withdrawal from school, and
declining health. Children who experience these traumatic events often struggle in school because the cumulative effect
of untreated trauma and toxic stress leads to absenteeism, drop outs, behavioral issues, and substance abuse.
Stress, depression, and anxiety are common. I am happy to see that the mindset is shifting toward the recognition of
these issues as normal among young people and I am relieved to see that schools are responding with a plan to help
students learn how to appropriately manage their mental health. As a society we should be embracing and celebrating
this trend, not mocking it.