Noor Haddad, College Counselor

Mental health for high school students has been something I’ve made a significant effort to learn more about. Many of the students I work with have struggled with it, and are still struggling. When I ask them questions about school, about their lives, their families, I can visibly see the pressure they are feeling. This is especially important for students of color. For long enough, due to societal pressures, cultural traditions, and the like, mental illness is a stigma. I know this having grown up in a family with that very same stigma.

One of my colleagues recommended that, as part of our book club, we read “What Made Maddy Run” by ESPN writer, Kate Fagan. Kate wrote about Madison Holleran, a track runner at Penn, and the events leading up to her suicide. One of the things that struck me the most was the topic of a missing identity. Kate wrote that Maddy saw herself as an athlete and an A-student, and because she was so busy with so many activities and obligations, she had little to no time for introspection. She had no time to find out who she was.

Although I read this book recently, it has immediately changed how I counsel my kids – especially the underclassmen. Among the questions I’ve asked over the last two weeks, two are essential: “How much sleep are you getting?” and “When is the last time you did something just for fun?” To the latter, I’ve had varying reactions. A pause. Eyes looking up into a daydream state, searching for a memory. A nervous laugh. How did it get this way, I wonder? Do our kids have time to even think about what makes them happy? How do we help them find that?

Of course, we should challenge our students and ask them to feed their academic curiosity. More importantly, though, we need to ask them what makes their world go round. We need to ask them questions that force them to think about who they are. They need to know we understand the pressure they’re feeling. They need to know we don’t think they’re soft, or weak, or sensitive. It might be as simple as asking them the question: “Is everything okay?”