Anxiety and Mental Health Care in Madison High School


In recent years, mental health has taken a serious toll on the student of America. In 2015, the National Institute for Mental Health found that 6.3 million teenagers suffered from an anxiety disorder. In recent years, the discussion on mental health has become more accepting and understanding as students are now able to find suitable paths to treatment. Because of the prevalence of mental health in the students of America, we decided that we should take a look at our own school’s mental health professionals and programs to better understand what students at Madison High School could do to help themselves or others cope with anxiety issues. Marisa Papa, a journalist for MDO and myself interviewed a few of the school’s psychologists as well as the school’s Principal. 

We first sat down with Ms Vanessa Morgenthaler, Madison High School’s Student Assistance Counselor. Morgenthaler has her undergraduate degree in biology and her Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling as well as an additional certification to work in schools as a Student Assistance Counselor. Morgenthaler spoke about her role as a Student Assistance Counselor being a resource for students to talk to judgement free about the issues of anxiety and mental health issues, academic issues, as well as substance abuse and addiction issues. When asked about the main cause of anxiety in a general standpoint she commented, “It’s so individualised, case by case. I do feel like obviously technology and social media plays a part in it. I think that there are a lot of stressors. You know, to be the best in school, to be the best in sports, to get into the best college. And I think we’re constantly just moving the bar.” We continued to discuss the effect of anxiety and how it is such a hard problem to generalize, but we also discussed one of the problems with anxiety being so individualised; “One of the things I’m noticing is that people are using the word anxious a lot more. And I think part of it is there’s more awareness. But I also think that people are swapping out the terms stressed and nervous with anxious. And there’s a difference between being stressed about something and being anxious about something.” 

The second psychologist we spoke with was Ms Dawn McNichol, the school psychologist with a Master’s Degree in Educational Psychology and she is a certified school psychologist. We spoke with McNichol about the services and accommodations students suffering from mental illness have access to at Madison High School; “There are multiple levels of services that anyone can receive. When a student comes to the guidance counselor or to a teacher and identifies that they’re needing any type of service we have a discussion with them and we see what specific things they’re struggling with; what’s their individual strengths and their individual weaknesses in order to determine a specific plan for them.” She continued to discuss the importance of bringing people close to the student together in order to help them receive better treatment, depending on whatever type of anxiety or mental health issue they are afflicted with.; “It varies for individuals. It’s very important that everyone comes to the table and we have an honest discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of that particular student and what would be helpful for that student.” When asked about the biggest change McNichol has seen in the past 10 years, she had this to say; “The one major aspect with regard to that is community resources. There are so many different resources that didn’t exist previously or they may have existed but not in such close proximity.” 

Finally, we spoke with the school’s principal, David Drechsel to talk about what the school is doing to assist kids with diagnosed anxiety issues and what sort of mental health resources the school provides; “Depending upon the severity there’s multiple paths to take. At a basic level of stress and anxiety that we all typically face, I think it’s just a matter of finding a person for that student to just go ahead and explain how they’re feeling and try to find ways to go ahead and help alleviate that stress and anxiety.” Drechsel continued to comment on how he thinks that the school’s current program is doing a good job in handling mental health issues in the student body and how the services the school can provide have improved in recent years, similarly to the comments made by McNichol. When asked to talk further about other possible improvements the school could make, he had this to say; “We could always improve, right? I don’t think we’re ever done improving. Off the top of my head, we could always go ahead and provide more counselors or an additional social worker or psychologist, just different people with those backgrounds that are specialized to go ahead and help kids in need. Now that comes down to money and being able to go ahead and support those services. And I think a lot of it is just listening to kids and trying to understand what you are all experiencing on a daily basis.”

After speaking to Madison High School’s professionals and Principal Dreschell, I felt enlightened. As a student, it was comforting to know that there are many possible paths students suffering with mental illness can take to receive the care they need. Hearing about the changes made to the school’s programs and the passion our administration feels when it comes to this issue is good to hear, especially as a student. Which is why I think it’s so important for the student body to understand the programs that our school offers and how readily accessible they are.