DETROIT (WXYZ) — Like it or not, as mask mandates seem to be coming to an end in a lot of school districts, it could be signaling the end of a dark tunnel that has led many students into depression, increased anxiety, and given some thoughts of suicide.
Talk of isolation from COVID-19 affecting so many young students, the principal of Cass Technical High School decided to have a mental health week before letting her students head home for winter break.
Victoria Wilson is a senior at Cass Tech. Growing up the oldest of eight children, she says education has always been her ticket to a better life. She has a full ride to the University of Michigan plus offers from Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton. Yet over the last two years, she found herself spiraling into depression, anxiety, and coping with the weight of the world as a teenager.
“The pandemic has brought on a lot of tough situations financially in terms of family debt I’ve been behind in school,” said Victoria Wilson.
Victoria, who got help from her school counselor to get back on track is not alone. Many teens have experienced mental challenges during this pandemic and, without intervention, it can lead to serious consequences.
Suicide among young people in Michigan now ranks as the second-leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 24.
That’s why the principal of Cass Tech, Lisa Phillips, decided to have a week of assemblies dedicated to mental health. Victoria and her fellow classmate Devin Green were student leaders for the project.
WXYZ’s Carolyn Clifford asked Phillips, “Why was it important for you to bring this to the students of Cass and especially right now?"
“They need to know we care they need to know we’re listening,” said Phillips.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) Emergency room visits for adolescent girls attempting suicide spiked by more than 20-percent in 2020. It was linked to a lack of connection between schools, teachers, and peers.
This assembly in the gym is the first time in nearly two years that students have come together face to face.
Demetrius Herman, a social media influencer with 1.5 million followers was the guest speaker.
Demetrius grew up in Detroit and launched his own ‘You Matter’ clothing line in 7th grade. He speaks openly about mental health.
“When I was in high school it was really hard too, just to find myself like hope, hope in anything, just dealing with depression, just dealing with anxiety,” said Demetrius Harmon while speaking in front of the assembly.
According to the CDC anxiety among young students has soared during the pandemic. Students are struggling with isolation. This week they are out of school.
“I did not want our kids to go into the winter break without tools to help them in case they feel depressed I wanted to give them hope,” said Phillips.
Devin Lewis-Green is 17 and a senior at Cass.
“So many kids have struggled through COVID especially mental illness so many things have happened, how’s that been for you?” asked Clifford.
“Just all of a sudden you can’t go to school, you can’t go to the grocery store, you can’t see your friends, it was very shocking,” said Lewis-Green.
“The seniors are thinking about their future college, the freshman are saying this is my first time in high school where are my friends,” said Phillips.
This at a time when mental health agencies across the state are struggling to fill job openings─ leaving children untreated.
“I would encourage everyone to do this, the social workers came in from different schools to support us,” said Phillips. “And because they came in here, I think they are going to take this on the road and introduce this to other schools.”
For Victoria, being able to express her feelings and listening to her peers gives her peace of mind.
“It made me feel recognized I found out there were people just like me and I did not feel alone in my struggles,” said Wilson.
Michigan schools had a student-to-counselor ratio of 691 to one - second-worst in the nation.
Experts say mental health professionals can be vital to a student's psychological well-being, especially as the pandemic continues to cause stress and social isolation in their lives.