PHS students initiate plans to bring awareness to mental health and stress education

In light of recent trends and events, students Nadia Shahab Diaz ’17 and Hannah Davies ’17 have been working to create positivity boards and programs in pursuit of mental wellness at PHS. This initiative focused on integrating more mental health education into the school curriculum, and is being implemented across the PPS community.

The fast-paced and competitive environment of PHS has long been considered a breeding ground for the depression and anxiety already rampant among teenagers. The initiative is aimed toward reducing the stigma for these mental health issues so that students can mitigate the problems they may be facing.

“The reason I think mental health is so important at Princeton High School is that we live in a very high-stress environment—like every high school, but particularly at PHS due to the intense academic rigor,” Davies said. “Kids who are struggling with mental health issues are written off as lazy, but they’re just struggling with their health problems, and so I think by addressing that stigma and addressing the fact that they actually are struggling, we can help those kids overcome their issues and get help.”

The plans aim to educate students about mental health. Among these include a new program similar to Teen PEP as well as incorporation of mental health education in the health curriculum and freshman Peer Group.

“We’re going to work [to] make people more aware of what’s going on [and] make people recognize the misconceptions and the stigma in, not just PHS, but the entire community—like the misuse of the word bipolar or depressed,” Shahab Diaz said. “We’ve also been meeting with [Principal Snyder and Superintendent Cochrane] as to what they think that we can do to make it better. We have two psychologists and two psychology interns, so we’re kind of working with them to be advisors of the program.”

“Brian [Li ’17] and I reached out to [Shahab Diaz and Davies] and met with them to talk with them about their ideas,” said Student Liaison Abby Emison ’17. “We also had a meeting with Dr. [David] Rosenfeld, one of the school psychologists, and [Gary] Snyder, the school principal, just to discuss some of the ideas they had and next steps to take in order to combat the mental health stigma.”

Furthermore, being right in the backyard of Princeton University, PHS’s location adds extra stress onto the shoulders of students.

“Many of our parents are working at the university,” Davies said. “A lot of us are put under a lot of pressure to perform well to their standards and to [not] live up to our own standards.”

A program working laterally to the initiative is Speak Out, Princeton Teens, founded by PHS student Barbara Kaminska ’18. The program aims not only to improve the relationship between the police and the community, but also to deal with the mental health issues that teens are facing.

“I want teens to be able to feel comfortable … so that they can see a difference,” Kaminska said. “They can become more … confident in talking with other teens in the community about different events that are affecting them.”

Furthermore, a recent change in tone—namely the discussion of the replacement of Advanced Placement history and English classes with Advanced Topics classes in the high school—elicited Davies’s approval.

“I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction if they’re going to lower the workload in those classes; if they’re not, then it might not. There’s also the problem that a lot of students are going to see the ATs as another [version of] AP [classes], so it’s gonna be another kind of stigma surrounding ‘Oh I’m in an AT class; I’m smarter than you are.’”

Beyond just PHS, the emergence of a mental health crisis has shaken the nation, more specifically the Central Jersey region. In West Windsor and Plainsboro, NJ, The New York Times reported high tension over the amount of burden placed on students, where Superintendent Dr. David Aderhold issued a 16-page letter shedding light on growing problems with student mental health and new efforts to counter the unfortunate trend.

“I think the program is something to look forward to at this school, and something long overdue,” Emison said. “I look forward to its implementation.”

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