Stigma Slaying: The Status of Youth Mental Health in Springfield

Picking your seat in a college classroom is a life or death decision. Sit too close to the front and you’re sure to be called on every day, for eternity. Whereas if you sit too far away, that one tenth year senior is FOR SURE copying off your answers like his/her life depended on it.

Unassumingly, I chose to set up camp towards the middle back of the classroom on the left. Close to the exit, not too far away from the prof, perfect line of vision of the board. I smirked, satisfied. In my mind, I gave myself the most epic high five.

My first real college class… let the games begin. Oh, and let’s not forget to “Tiger Up!”

As a freshman in Dr. Yontz’s Sociological Perspectives in Education class at THE Wittenberg University, one of the requirements of the class was to work at a local Springfield School tutoring students.

“Awesome…” I thought while skimming the class syllabus. I motivated myself: “I’m gonna become the best teacher and change the education system…Blah blah blah, naïve thoughts, blah.”

Lord, was I wrong – but that’s a post for another time. *Wink*

As the year progressed, my classmates and I were given different school assignments. I was assigned to Fulton Elementary, a school predominantly attended by African American (39.9% of student population) and white students (37.3% of student population.) (http://reportcard.education.ohio.gov.)
I ALSO learned that ALL (that’s 100%, friends) of enrolled students are listed as economically disadvantaged (http://reportcard.education.ohio.gov ) – in the education world, this is where students get left behind.

What? People are leaving their students behind…? Isn’t that abuse?

Let me pause for a second. Here’s a quick overview of the education world through my eyes: those students with cash are able to obtain resources, tutoring, all the books in the world, and probably live in a wealthy neighborhood.

OK cool, so why is this beneficial?

Well, my dear reader… because those students must be the children of some wealthy parents. Wealthy people can afford to spend money towards upkeep in their school district. Historically, these parents are more informed citizens, they are more educated and they can afford to contribute money to hiring the best, most qualified, teachers. Not only that, but wealthy people have money for basic needs. They can feed their families, they have a house over their wealthy shampooed AND conditioned heads, they can take their family to the dentist or doctor, and they most likely have health insurance. They are privileged.

In contrast…

Economically disadvantaged students are not able to buy school supplies, may not have consistent meals, encounter violence in their neighborhoods daily because mom and dad cannot afford to move out, they are not working a high paying job, or ANY job.
These poor students and families are STUCK.
Reader, do you think these students are worrying about their education when their wondering if mommy will get shot tonight or if daddy will be able to afford to purchase a package of six hot dogs for the family of eight to share for dinner? Hm…

As many would think, the poorest people are black. *CUE LOUD BUZZER NOISE* Wrong.
This is indeed a myth. Springfield is a prime example: it includes a large population of poor whites – mainly of Appalachian origin who migrated to Springfield during booming industrial times, during the early 20th century, searching for work. However, the economy soon plummeted. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out so well for them.

So what the heck does this have to do with mental health awareness? Let me hit you with some knowledge…

Currently, I am interning in Springfield. I learned from a member of the AmeriCorps Vista program, Chanteal H., that within Springfield: 18% of Springfield High School students had thought about committing suicide, as previously mentioned in the most recent Hagen Center post.

I heard, but did not feel, the air escape from my parted mouth when I was informed of this heart wrenching statistic. I looked down at my feet. So that equates to 1 of every 5 students. 1 of 5 has considered suicide. I panicked a little.

I am a doer. What could I do? Something had to be done. Here I was, standing in an office reading statistics when I could be changing them. Alas… I am a lowly intern with not even a bachelor’s degree under her belt, (yet.)

*CUT TO FIVE MINUTES LATER – END THE PITY PARTY*

Hence, here we are! This is when I was inspired to write, to research, to acquire knowledge, to raise awareness.

What did this look like, you ask, this frenzy of inspiration? Picture Ke$ha at the peak of one of her performances, slathered in glitter and sweat with her hair aflame like Katniss Everdeen preparing to enter the Hunger Games, while rifts of “Eye of the Tiger” protrude from my every pore: a face “speaker” system, if you will. Like a rabid lioness, Ke$ha Lorko takes her trident microphone, launches it into the crowd and releases a war cry eliciting fear, and respect, from the loyal audience.

So here we are, reader – I hope you’ve stuck with me this far. I’m sorry if you got lost back there with the last paragraph, but let’s dial it back in.

Youth mental health is a serious issue worldwide. Why not start right here in our community? It’s time to start a conversation. I challenge you, reader, to look at yourself. Are you as informed as you could be about mental health? If you answered no, stop reading immediately, close this, and get to work. If you answered yes, why are you not making a difference? Educate others, raise funds for a Springfield organization, volunteer. Do not use the excuse of time. Because the “best way to predict the future is to create it,” (Peter Drucker.)

Let’s make this world a happier, healthier, and more understanding place to live in.

-Kelsey Lorko

©Kelsey Lorko, 2015

Picture: © Kelsey Lorko, 2015