Some area high school students from the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls participated in a small focus group in our WNED/WBFO studio. This student focus group is part of our Corporation for Public Broadcasting Education Innovation Planning grant. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says students described mental health challenges.
Students quietly gathered at round tables waiting for a facilitator to lead them in a group discussion. Then they were give a game. The students to ask to speak with someone they didn't know and ask a list of question.
“I love black jelly beans,” someone declared. That activity drew laughter and served as an ice breaker. As we spoke to some of the students we learned that mental health and mental illness is a major concern.
“I feel like we should speak up more and then it will really help us,” said Trenity Miller, senior, Niagara Falls High School.
Miller said often times students too scared to reach out to adults with their issues.
“Offer more help when it comes to that, even though if the kids don’t reach out – ‘oh are you okay’, ‘do you need help’ – kids – they’ve got pride and like ‘oh I don’t want to do it’ – but if it’s affecting you at the end of the day, I think you should say something – you should reach out if you really need it,” Miller remarked.
Niagara Falls City School Superintendent Mark Laurrie was there to listen. He wants students to educate him about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to talking about mental health and mental illness.
“I want to know what the students think works, what the students think make a difference – in terms of their own and their peers mental health. What programs we have that don’t work and what programs that we should bring that will help. I think too often, we as adults, think we know better,” Laurrie explained.
“It is a struggle in high school and not many people, adults especially realize that,” said Dwayne Sawyer, senior, Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.
Sawyer expressed issues of 'high anxiety' and it hits him when he least expects it.
"I have to remember what I’m doing in my task and I have to try to keep that in mind – like I have a job and I have to finish it – that’s mainly what keeps me focused and also think about my grades because that's crucial,” Sawyer replied.
School districts across the state have implemented mental health curriculums. 11th grader Mahoganie Lewis is also Falls High School student. She tells us they definitely need more adult support.
“Everybody comes from different backgrounds. We just listen to like drama on social media,” Lewis said. “Do you feel that anxiety?” asked Buckley. “Yes, a lot,” Lewis answered. “What happens when you feel that way? What do you do?” Buckley questioned. “I procrastinate – a lot,” Lewis responded.
We also asked Lewis if she was reaching out for help at her school. “No. I go to some friends or I go to my mom, because I feel like I can trust her with a lot,” Lewis replied.
“The biggest challenges, as a high school student now, is the lack of awareness for mental health and also the lack of awareness for other social issues – like racism and sexism,” said Jasiah Jackson, 11th grader, Niagara Falls High School.
Jackson tells us when it comes to mental health, many students are suffering from anxiety.
“Especially with the amount – abundance of work that we have to deal with and stuff and the little time that we get. I also see students dealing with a lot pressure when it comes to being a teenager in 2018,” described Jackson.
When asked how student get help, Jackson replied “personally, we get help from each other – that’s one big thing.”