At Torrey Pines High School, the PALs (Peer Assistant Listeners/Leaders, depending on whom you ask) class is a group of students whose goal is to promote student wellness and connection.
Jeffrey Owen, who currently teaches the class, says a main focus of PALs this year has been destigmatizing therapy and other mental health services.
“Let’s talk about different types of therapy, how to reach out for therapy, how to get it available to teens. Because if there’s any time we need it, it’s now,” Owen said.
PALs recently collaborated with FalconVision, TPHS’s student broadcast program, to promote a video of multiple teachers and students opening up about their experiences with therapy. Mirabel, a senior at TPHS, was one of the students who took part in the video. A PAL herself, she says it’s important to encourage people to ask for help when they need it. And according to her, that doesn’t just apply to those feeling the effects of the pandemic.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that people take [teen mental health] more seriously because they can attribute it to a large, worldwide crisis,” Mirabel said. “I think it’s sort of been bubbling under the surface for so long for a lot of people.”
According to data on San Dieguito Union High School District from the California Healthy Kids Survey, an anonymous state-subsidized survey of California students, her theory isn’t far off. In 2018-19, 14% of 9th graders and 17% of 11th graders answered yes to the question “During the past 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?” In 2020-21, those numbers actually declined to 13% and 15%.
However, in that same time frame, the percent of 9th and 11th graders answering yes to “During the past 12 months, did you ever feel so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more that you stopped doing some usual activities” jumped from 28% and 34% to 31% and 37%.
While the results do differ pre and post COVID, it’s not as striking a discrepancy as you might expect. What’s more significant, and worrying, is the number of high school students indicated by the above data to be suffering from major depressive episodes, regardless of the pandemic’s influence.
In April and May of 2022 alone, the New York Times ran stories titled “‘It’s Life or Death’: The Mental Health Crisis,” “Hundreds of Suicidal Teens Sleep in Emergency Rooms. Every Night,” “Teens in Distress are Swamping Pediatricians,” and more, each detailing aspects of declining teen mental health. Medical professionals continue to debate the causes of this trend, assessing the influence of factors like social media, parental influence, and world affairs. For resources on how to support those you care about, SDUHSD recommends visiting takeaction4mh.com.