The Opinion of the Smoke Signal Editorial Board
We are distraught over Caroline Tang’s suicide. Caroline was a dear member of our community and to many, a missed friend. It is clear that we want to honor her memory: profile pictures, paper cranes, and candlelight vigils can attest to that. However, we must not confuse grieving her death with addressing the mental health issues that have been prevalent in our community for years. While they cannot be resolved overnight, it is time we reevaluate our outlook on student mental health.
While the school administration has implemented numerous changes in the past, such as late-start Wednesdays, advisory periods, and Stress Less Days, aimed at reducing school stress, there is no denying that MSJ must seek more professional advice and strategies to deal with suicide and mental health. Admittedly, we do have a fair amount of mental health resources readily available on campus — two school psychologists, four full-time school counselors, a City of Fremont Youth and Family Services Counselor, and more — but a majority of students are unaware of them, while those who are may be too intimidated or unwilling to approach them.
Our school district could look to Henry M. Gunn High School and Palo Alto High School as examples of how we can move forward to address the mental health needs of our students. Rocked by a teen suicide rate of four to five times the national average, the Palo Alto Unified School District declared the situation a health crisis, called for the Center for Disease Control’s thorough investigation, and followed through with the introduction of wellness centers, freshman transition and counseling programs, and family therapy seminars.
While the school administration may provide some care for our mental health, we must realize that the root of the issue also lies in the standards we hold ourselves to. Between the “I can, therefore I must” mentality of academics, the strain of extracurriculars, activities, and issues with relationships and family members, each student has a unique set of challenges to navigate every day. With the normalization of jokes about sleep deprivation and intense academic pressure, we neglect our mental health, in turn contributing to a more negative and stressful school environment. When we are surrounded by students who take more weighted courses or hold more leadership positions, it is easy for us to perceive ourselves as less capable or less valuable. This leads us to subconsciously compare ourselves to our peers, even when we know that doing so only results in more anxiety and pressure.
On the other hand, our stress also prevents us from paying attention to the well being of our peers. There is no way to tell what circumstances surround each person we encounter, and even those who appear “flawless” may simply be concealing their struggles. We should therefore be more empathetic by initiating acts of kindness and taking time out of our busy lives to check up and genuinely listen to our friends.
Meanwhile, those who know of students with emotional problems should tactfully suggest receiving professional help or refer them to a counselor. Many students understandably feel uncomfortable seeking these services, while others have concerns regarding confidentiality. The administration and counselors, along with dedicated student organizations such as Peer Resource and Best Foot Forward, should familiarize students with their processes by more frequently publicizing their available services, including the standard procedures they follow when approached by a student.
Caroline’s death serves as a solemn reminder for us to tackle mental health issues together head on. While these issues cannot be resolved in a matter of days or weeks, a shift in mentality and renewed sense of empathy in approaching our peers and daily activities will go a long way to increase positivity within our school environment.
Graphic by Opinion Editor Anthony Chen