Mental Health: it’s become, in a way, a bit of a “trendy” topic.
For some, the phrase evokes ideas of taking a day off work or school to do face masks and catch up on a TV series. For others, it means making time in a busy schedule for a therapy session, or working on patterns in that may be more harmful than helpful. But what does it mean at Baylor?
In his opening speech to the Baylor community in the fall, Headmaster Scott Wilson '75 emphasized his personal interest in improving the overall well-being of individuals at Baylor. Less of a “how can we get our test and basketball scores up” approach, and more of a “is the average student, or faculty member, happy in their life?” He’s been vulnerable in sharing the complicated life situation that led him to this conclusion, but mental health at Baylor goes beyond what the headmaster would like to do. It’s a nationwide issue.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), suicide is the third leading cause of death for American adolescents. Mental health can no longer be an afterthought for schools; it must be on the forefront of our radar. Baylor students have seen an increase in the number of visiting chapel speakers this year who focus on speaking about their struggles with mental health and offering alternatives to unhealthy coping mechanisms. In Wellness classes, students take a break from P.E. to learn a little more about real life: sex education, gender equality, drugs and alcohol, among other topics. When they complete the Wellness classes, they remain active in sports and physical education - an approach connecting physical health to mental health which has proven to help according to studies.
Baylor teachers receive mental health and suicide prevention training, but how many teachers may have implemented that training into their curriculum? Do they encourage their students to be open and honest about stresses in their life? Are they flexible in regards to grades and due dates when they know a student or students are struggling? Are they aware of the intensely stressful and time consuming college process seniors are going through? These are questions for us all to ask ourselves - are we considering the well-being of the people around us? Like Mr. Wilson has shown, vulnerability is an important first step - the next is responding to that openness. Check in on your friends, your teachers, your students, even people who just seem to be having a rough time. A sense of community is one of the most important steps we can take as a school to make everyone feel supported.
Next, we must turn inward. I asked Kathy Fraley, director of counseling, what she considers to be the largest issue Baylor students face. “One of the biggest challenges for students (and really all of us) is to find what truly motivates them and brings joy to their lives," she said. "Often we can look around us and feel like everyone else has it figured out, while we continue to feel uninspired by our classes or after school activities."
Rather than recede from relationships and activities, the antidote is to continue to try. I encourage you to push harder when parts of your life disappoint you. As scary as it may be, attend an event you’ve never gone to before. Try an activity you never have tried. Not just at Baylor but in all of Chattanooga. You’ll touch communities you never knew existed. Resist feeling like you might not be good enough and may be rejected.
No one will push you away for trying new things, and as you try more and more, I promise something will stick. There will be something you love. There is something for all us, and someone is waiting to share it with you.
When life outside Baylor detracts from your happiness, reach out to people here. Five professional counselors are available to listen to you at any time. Mental Health Awareness Week is a good start, but we all must make the first step. We must be proactive in our own lives to ensure our happiness. Be watchful of people who make you unhappy, and when your unhappiness persists, remember that therapy is not just a tool for the mentally ill. It’s the doctor checkup we all need.
Less stigmatization, more understanding and support between peers, more understanding between peers and teachers, and more involvement from the school all can be done, and it is all doable. As cheesy as it may sound, we can truly fight daunting statistics, one set of open arms at a time.