100 minutes. Not a lot of time. A short movie. A block period. What can really happen in just 100 minutes? Nothing life-changing, right?
Once every 100 minutes, a teenager takes their own life. That means that every day is the end of 14 short lives.
Still, that number felt far away for Prairie. It wouldn’t happen here, right?
September 23rd, 2017. One of our own lived his last 100 minutes.
Garrett Farr. Class clown. Athlete. Friend. Son.
That same night, in another 100 minutes, another life was almost lost. Prairie could have lost two of its students that night.
Friday, May 4th, 2018. 222 days since we lost Garrett. 3,200 more 100 minutes. Three thousand and two hundred more teenagers gone from this world.
All those lives cut short, and all their futures dissipate into thin air. No college, no weddings, no kids. Mental health has been a prevalent issue in many schools all around the US, but it seems like many are averting their eyes.
What has Prairie done? What are other high schools doing? How are the students feeling? These are important questions. Questions that need to be answered, today.
Prom was, as always, a symbol of the end of the year. The night before, many girls were getting their nails done or getting a spray tan, and many of the guys were picking up the corsage. Meanwhile, there was a mental health conference and town hall meeting hosted at Prairie High School.
17 different agencies had booths to reach out, help, and spread the message. Sadly, most students have no idea about these amazing groups that could help them. These two groups are just the tip of the iceberg of local support for mental health awareness in our area.
PFLAG Cedar Rapids. This organization is for the LGBTQ+ community. Many young members of this community suffer through so much more than their peers. Coming out, being bullied, having to fight for acceptance, and so much more. PFLAG has gatherings for the LGBTQ+ people in our area. One for general support, and another specifically for Transgender people. This group has been around for 45 years, and there are not many students who know about them. Prairie has a large group of students who would benefit from these group meetings, and it is sad that many students have no idea about this organization.
The Green Bandana Project. This simple and bright piece of fabric can save the lives of peers. This project is where it takes the biggest resource students have, other students, and train them in mental health awareness and how to help. By simply taking a course, and tying a green bandana to a backpack, the student body becomes stronger. Linn Mar High School has already brought this project to their school, and Prairie is following them next year. Many colleges around the country are also adopting the Green Bandanas to their campuses.
So, how are these Prairie high school students feeling? A survey was conducted this past week to answer that question. Only, it raised more questions as well. Here are 12 examples.
“This is so stressful and I’ve already had a couple breakdowns just from the stress of school while IN school. There’s no balance and it makes me get anxious anytime our future is mentioned because I feel like I’m not doing enough but what I am doing is pushing me to my breaking point.”
“From just becoming a sophomore, I have had more mental breakdowns than I ever have before. When people say ‘talk to someone’ it’s easier said than done.”
“The only time this school cares about mental health is after a tragedy. Classes give kids hours of homework, and administration still thinks that this school system isn’t to blame for mental health issues among their own students.”
“I don’t know where to go or who to talk to in our school about my mental health. I’ve asked some people and they said to talk to the counselors that make our schedules who no one has any personal connections to and who I have spoken to once about changing classes. They don’t seem like a good resource for counseling. I’ve had suicidal thoughts and I’ve had panic attacks and mental breakdowns and I have no idea who in the school I can talk to about that. In middle and elementary school there was always a guidance counselor to talk to about that but there is not one that I know of in the high school.”
“If Prairie was really about anti-bullying, they would be able to see that teachers are bullies too. From my personal experience, I have had a teacher tell me my religious beliefs are a lie. I have had many teachers that could care less if their students succeed. The teachers aren’t the only problem. The problem has to start with administration. The administration tells us that they are there if we have any problems, but when we confront them about our problems. But then they do nothing about it. They tell us that we are in the wrong. The administration is failing to see what is happening at the high school because they don’t want to see it. They need to open their eyes and see the reality. “
“A teacher told me to “just end it,” when I was confiding in him about my mental health. He preached about how no one is alone, or how we need to love each other, but he was the reason for my depression. He killed my passion, and I don’t know how I am supposed to come back from that. Teachers and staff need to be way more careful with the words they use.”
“I am mentally ill and I feel Prairie doesn’t give a (pardon the language) damn. I feel they could possibly get better educated or just learn that mental illness isn’t just a thing that you can ignore. It is not being addressed by any professional and having no one that can do things at school means they really aren’t trying their absolute hardest to help every student.”
“As a student, I am constantly ridiculed and bullied by my peers every day. It has gotten to the point where I dread waking up in the morning and hate going to school. I hate feeling like I am unwanted in a place that should always feel safe for me to go to. For such a big school, I feel like there are no safe places for me to go when I am feeling attacked.”
“I don’t know if it’s just because as a teenager I put too much pressure on myself, but I wish there was a discussion about mental health at school. I wish Prairie put out information and help on how to deal with the stress and anxiety of high school life because I feel like there’s not anything and the only reason I know it’s normal is because a lot of my friends have gone through similar stress-filled situations as well. I’m really glad you’re addressing this topic because Iowa’s mental health program is shit and it needs to get better.”
“I’ve always felt like school was meant to take away individuality so we can fit into society. It sucks but that’s how things work. I’ve never smiled the same since I started school and I hate that there’s nothing to be done about that”
“I would appreciate it if teachers knew more on these subjects and understood when people like myself need a break or just need to go cry for a second. I also feel we should get better counselors because the ones we have now are useless.”
“We should also have a safe space for people who are on the verge of a breakdown rather than having it in the bathroom or in the hallways.”
These students wrote words that are hard to share. Many had ideas about what Prairie and all high schools need to add. A designated safe space for students to go when they need a quiet place to be. A better discussion about mental health, meaning an education about it with no stigma attached. A way to help students with the stress of high school life.
Most of the responses were about having a certified mental health counselor available in the building. While the Green Bandana Project is a start, students deserve an adult who is there just to help them. Not there just about schedules or scholarships, but for these issues that kill teenagers every 100 minutes.
Having that resource is worth any cost because the other price is life or death.
There is a problem when students “joke” and say that they want to die. How many of them are joking? What if they aren’t?
Prairie was wounded this fall, and many students feel like it was only fixed with a Band-Aid.
When Prairie students were in 9th grade, they had a health class, and every unit was a different part of WELLNESS. One of the units was mental health, this was the chance to educate young students about a huge part of life.
Sadly, the teachers were not mental health experts, and some are not even supporters. The first and last thing learned about mental health at Prairie was, “If you are depressed, just fix it.” That was all the students got, and now they have to try and live with the consequences.
Stress, bullying, anxiety, and depression bleed out of the walls of high schools and out of the students’ mouths.
Teenagers don’t ask for much anymore. They ask for strong shoulders, their own to stand tall, and another to cry on. They ask for eyes to see into their deepest thoughts so someone can understand the pain. They ask for ears that listen, never with judgment, but always with care. And a mouth that can speak words to help.
Today, we ask for hands. Hands that can change our lives. We are asking, no, begging, or maybe even demanding, for high school to be changed.
These 100 minutes are becoming harder to survive.