What can adults can do in the rising mental health crisis

By Jacob Grismer

John F. Kennedy’s words, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” is good for all adults in our school to remember. Whether it’s parents or school administrators, we must never forget that mental health is inseparable from our physical and social health, and taking time to nurture it is a worthwhile investment for all parts of students’ future well-being. What parents and the school can do, however, is a very complex topic.


Parents are fundamental to how their children develop. Research indicates children begin their development by duplicating and using their parent’s behavior as a frame of reference of what’s healthy or acceptable.

According to the CDC, a child’s mental health is strongly tied to their parents’, and parents struggling with their mental health have more difficulty providing care for their child, which suggests parents should prioritize their own mental health before focusing on their child’s.

There’s extreme examples of this lesson like Bellbrook junior Daryn Cross whose mom suffers from addiction that “severely messed up her mental health.” Or Claire Rigsby, a sophomore who said her dad “is slaying” (read: doing really well) with his mental health compared to her mom who “is getting slain.” Because of his healthier mental state, Rigsby prefers living with her dad. 

Communication by parents is equally important. In response to their 2021 report, the CDC recommends parents have open and honest communication about boundaries, expectations and feelings when dealing with conflict with their children.

Many parents have a desire to hide their feelings to protect their children. “He doesn’t really talk about [his feelings], but if something’s wrong pertaining to me, he’ll tell me,” Rigsby said.

A 2020 study found that children have a surprising ability to pick up on parental stress and transmit that stress to themselves, so hiding feelings can actually backfire and give a poor example of how a person should deal with their emotions. The same study found that parents saying everything will be OK, or offering solutions for a child’s stress have been shown to be less comforting than honoring the child’s feelings.

“[My mom] shares so much it feels like there’s no room for me to be cared about,” Cross said, “And my dad’s just a brick wall. I prefer neither method.”

Parents should be careful when isolating their kids with uneven communication as it can close doorways the child might otherwise be willing to cross. Although it might hurt parents to see their children sad, it’s more harmful to imply the child’s sadness is a problem instead of a valuable emotion. 

Another issue at Bellbrook High School  — a high-achieving environment — is the desire to be perfect, according to Connor Flanagan. “I don’t see it in my friend group but I definitely see it in others,” Flanagan said.

Ms. Scohy, a school guidance counselor, noticed a similar trend in students she talks to. “I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s perfectionism, but the anxiety levels have definitely increased but that could be because of an underlying perfectionism trait,” Scohy said.

Perfectionism and parental expectations have shown to have a correlation but it’s hard to pin down the exact causation. Either way, perceptions of parental expectations have been rising in the US, Canada, and the UK up 40% since 1989 according to an article from the American Psychological Association. 

“Parents are not to blame because they’re reacting anxiously to a hyper-competitive world with ferocious academic pressures, runaway inequality and technological innovations like social media that propagate unrealistic ideals of how we should appear and perform,” said Thomas Curran, PhD, an assistant professor of psychological and behavioral science at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

But these expectations, especially when perceived as excessive, can have many harmful effects. Perfectionism is linked to many mental disorders and can worsen with age.

More importantly, parental expectations had a larger impact than criticism because the children often depend on parents’ expectations for self-esteem. When they inevitably don’t keep pace, children blame themselves and try to close the gap by being perfect.

Parents can help manage this unnecessary stress by teaching that mistakes are inevitable and a necessary part of the learning process — focusing on progress over perfection. 

A clear example is Rigsby’s dad’s expectations. “I don’t feel they’re excessive. My dad said he doesn’t care as long as I’m putting my best foot forward, that’s all he can ask for. It doesn’t put too much pressure on me but it still makes me want to strive as a student. Like I get a choice to make him more proud but I always know he’ll be proud of me.”

These expectations help students have the courage to have a self-esteem separate from others—a long term necessity for motivation.

The CDC also recommends parents get more involved in a child’s school life in general. This could mean helping out with homework, communicating more with their teachers, or participating in school activities with their children.

School Administration

A change in culture led by the school’s administration can improve the worsening mental health state reported by the CDC mental health report. According to the CDC, school connectedness — individuals’ belief that those in the school care about them — is one of three keys to success in schools building a safe and supportive environment.

Besides what peers and individuals can do, what has our school been doing and what can it do to improve school culture?

What school teachers and admin do

When students are seeking help for their mental struggles, “Teachers are often students’ first point of contact. Most just want to be heard but sometimes the issue is more than we can provide,” English teacher Aimee Klepacz said.

Teachers are trained with courses around “the impact of trauma, toxic stress, and other environmental variables on learning behavior, among other topics,” according to Ohio law.

Klepacz said this means training that “encompasses mental and physical wellness, so that means homelessness, depression, suicidal thoughts, fights or violent behavior, neglect/abuse and the laws regarding child wellness.”  She noted the yearly test over these topics is “very involved.” 

If the issue is beyond the teacher’s training, teachers are recommended to direct students to school counselors and are mandated reporters of possible abuse/neglect.

Child abuse or neglect, suicidal thoughts, and bullying all fall under the mandatory reporting category. This means anything that would classify as abuse or neglect by another person.

Similarly, schools and teachers are given notifications by local law enforcement if children are found at a traumatic scene. This program called Handle With Care was implemented in 2021 in Greene County to notify teachers with non-specific information so teachers can begin trauma-sensitive care. 

If the school counselors are out of their expertise of the school-personal relationship and start to find the student struggles with issues in their personal lives, the school therapist may be brought in.

The school posts the 988 suicide hotline and 4 Hope hotlines, runs STOP mental health surveys, and supports clubs like the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and the Hope Squad. According to the CDC, these clubs were another key part of school connectedness.

What the administration could do

Given that research shows that students are more likely to seek counseling when services are available in the school, why does the school not hire more mental health workers?

Put simply: funding.

“It would be easier if we had more funding,” high school principal Dave Hann said. “We have tried to bring in outside mental health support, with some success. We advocate with district administration to add more counseling and mental health therapists. We’re always looking for ways.” 


The school administration is taking steps to make a safer, more supportive environment in the school. If more changes are made, a comprehensive study on youth mental health recommends that students and educators both be included and that mental health interventions fall into the logistical constraints of the school environment.

The study also showed senior school leaders play one of the most important roles in championing the prioritization of mental health so they must receive high-quality training and ongoing supervision.


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