Voices of Youth: How does Ypsilanti Community High School help support mental health among students?

This article is part of Concentrate's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Washtenaw County youth in partnership with Concentrate mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, student Gracia Anzal Mazama examines the mental health needs of Ypsilanti Community High School students and the services available to them.

Many high school students struggle with their mental health. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three U.S. school students have experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. This can be the result of the pursuit of academic validation; family problems; peer pressure; struggles with self-identification; or balancing school, work, and life.

To help these students, schools around the country, including here in Washtenaw County, have worked to raise awareness about mental health issues and provide youth with resources to address them.

Still, many students remain unaware of what resources are available or how to access them. Based on an informal poll, two in five students at Ypsilanti Community High School (YCHS) did not know about the mental health services offered in school.

YCHS junior Jackie Sakina says she has never thought about asking for help with her mental health at school for fear of not being taken seriously. Sakina sometimes struggles with stress. She says it's important for schools to make sure students know their options.

Jackie Sakina.
“Informing students of what mental health services are available would encourage them to ask for help,” Sakina says.

In many local school buildings — including Ypsilanti Community Schools — students have access to a range of health services through Michigan Medicine's Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools (RAHS) program. In addition to sports physicals, vaccinations, and other routine care to support student well-being, the in-school clinics offer services to support students' mental health.

At YCHS, RAHS provides one-on-one therapy, group anxiety management with a licensed social worker, and peer-to-peer support.

YCHS social worker Kimberly Johnson says the school supports students who are struggling, but serving such a large student population with limited resources can be very challenging.

“It is hard to support 500 students with few social workers," Johnson says. "Social workers often play the role of security guards by breaking off fights between students. The school needs more social workers, because there are only three social workers and one of them works with kids with special needs."

As a result, social workers can often spend a maximum of 20-30 minutes with a student at a time, which is sometimes not enough.

One new way YCHS is planning to support students is through the formation of its own Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) program. The school recently received a $5,000 grant to create this safe place for LGBTQ+ students. The goal of the new program is to support students who identify themselves as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, who, according to the CDC, are even more likely to experience symptoms of depression.

The way to graduation is a long and stumbling road that no student should have to cross alone. YCHS' goal is to support its students, and according to students, two things that would help are more support staff and better communication about what services are available.

Gracia Anzal Mazama lives in Ypsilanti and is an 11th grader at Ypsilanti Community High School. Concentrate staffer Eric Gallippo served as her mentor on this project.

Photos by Doug Coombe.