Mental Health at IHS


Ava Warren

School definitely has its purpose: to educate students, build social skills, and ultimately prepare students for their futures. But what accommodations is a school able to make for students who have a particularly difficult time understanding their emotions and how their emotions relate to their behaviors? Statistics show that one in five people develop a serious mental health disorder at some point in their lives. Further research states that half of all mental health issues begin by age fourteen.

Middle school and high school, in general, are experiences of change and sometimes even volatile emotions can be exposed for many students. To understand the school’s take on mental health, I sat down with Christine Ryan, the school’s adjustment counselor. Ryan, a big proponent of art therapy, aims to “make sure students are in a place emotionally where they can access their learning.”

One of the biggest questions I’ve come across is a school’s role in addressing concerns of adolescents. Does the school have an obligation to help treat students with mental health disorders? What if a student’s emotions are getting in the way of their learning? Ryan clarified this for me, stating that she believes schools are “on the front lines, especially teachers who interact with students every day. We have the ability to intervene early if we feel it is needed.” She added that most of the time, when working with students, she aims “to understand what’s going on and if a student has a recent trauma or past struggles with mental health.” She then works to assess “if a weekly meeting with a school counselor would be appropriate or if [the student] needs a level of care outside of school.”

Recently, it’s come to my attention that many students at IHS don’t know the resources we have available if someone is struggling with mental health issues. Ryan explained that as the adjustment counselor, she is eager to work with students on social-emotional issues. “Beth Downing is our Lahey Student Assistance Program Counselor, who essentially does many of the same tasks as [Ryan does].” I also interviewed Grace DeBoer, a junior at IHS with concerns about the way the school addresses mental health. She was unaware of our resources, other than meeting with Christine Ryan, when needed.

Ipswich High School is progressing with the way it addresses student mental health concerns. Ryan reflected that “we do a good job or reacting. There’s a lot [she] would like to implement to be more proactive.” Similarly, DeBoer implied that the school has improvements to make. Our conversations did result in some possible improvements. DeBoer proposed that we have school wide assemblies to educate students on relevant mental health issues, and she supported Ryan’s idea that we require individual screenings, similar to the way the nurse provides hearing, vision, and scoliosis tests. Nearby Methuen Public Schools have instituted similar plans, which have been successful so far.

When reflecting how teachers have an impact on mental health, DeBoer commented that “when a student is struggling, teachers are generally pretty accommodating.” However, she explained that “teachers understand the way sports and music create conflicts in our daily lives. They should understand how mental health issues impact us as well.” The verdict stands. Ipswich is improving when it comes to addressing mental health. Work such as improving psycho-education in the form of health classes, curriculum, and collaboration with teachers are the next steps for IHS.