More than two dozen Burroughs High students met with Burbank Unified school board member Steve Ferguson this week to talk about teens’ mental health, and what the district can and should do to support them.
Joining Ferguson on Thursday in teacher David Knatcal’s classroom was Laurie Bleik, executive director of Family Service Agency, which provides counseling services at a number of Burbank schools. The 30 students who attended were part of the school’s Junior State of America club, which meets to discuss local, state and national issues.
Ferguson opened the discussion by asking the teens about the biggest challenges they face today.
They offered many: stress caused by an overwhelming amount of homework, the need for approval from adults, acceptances from universities, ‘A’ grades, personal problems at home, eating disorders, and becoming the target of gossip from their peers.
“A lot of people get stressed and they don’t really know how to deal with it,” said sophomore Maximilian Zekowski. “Sometimes we deal with it in very negative ways. Maybe we should try to make it so our education allows some sort of way to teach people how to deal with stress and how to live healthier lives mentally.”
Bleik asked students if they felt comfortable telling someone they may need help. Maximilian said he believes few would.
“The feeling of being the one person in the room raising their hand and asking a question, feeling alone and kind of afraid…a lot of people just can’t really do it,” he said. “We have trouble saying, ‘I need help.’ I think it needs to be included in what we’re teaching our students here.”
Ferguson asked the teens if seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness.
The majority of them immediately shook their heads no, and said it was a strength, but agreed that the concept is perceived as such.
That’s when Ferguson, 26, shared his own routine.
“I see a therapist once a week because it’s a part of just maintaining health, and I’m a school board member — whatever that means — but I’m a leader in the community, and I realize how important that is. I’ve gone through a lot of things in my own life,” he said, adding that his mom passed away just after he graduated from high school.
“I’ve been through a lot of stuff and I couldn’t get through it if I couldn’t talk to somebody or at least check in from time to time,” he said.
Bleik told the students that seeing a therapist is no different than seeing an eye doctor, or any other clinician dealing with a physical part of the body.
“Most people have thought about hurting themselves in one form or another, and yet, we think we’re the only one. And I guarantee you: you’re not the only one. And that conversation, when we take it out of the shadows and when we give it a voice, we take the power back,” she said.