“My son came home from school and said, ‘I’m really worried this could happen at our school,’” says Jane Robertson, a mother of a 16-year-old in Belfast, Maine. She’s also a chiropractor, who helped start one of the wellness rooms in her area. The first one opened in Camden, Maine, after a spate of suicides more than 10 years ago, she said.
Overall, a recent national survey of adolescent mental health found that about 8 to 10 percent of teens ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder. And of those teens, only 18 percent received mental health care, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
School officials across the country, meanwhile, say they’re seeing a steady uptick in mental health referrals, often stress-related. Timothy Dorway, a principal at a high school in Chanhassen, Minn., just outside Minneapolis, is among them. He says such referrals have doubled since his school opened in 2009.
“We’re asking these kids to do things that we don’t even ask adults to do,” Dorway says, noting sports and academic requirements that often leave them sleep-deprived.
Besides the mental health issues, he noted that students from his school have been in car accidents after falling asleep at the wheel — one of them on the way to school, at 7:45 a.m.
All of it led him and his school community to come up with a motto — “Balance, Perspective, Growth” — and to look for ways to put it into practice.
Now, Chanhassen High is among a small but growing number of schools that has homework-free nights scattered throughout the school year. Two days a week, students at Chanhassen also get a 20-minute “recess” break in the morning. Some play hackie sack or grab a snack. They chat in the hallways, catch up on homework or rest.