Looking back: How school spirit and discussion about student wellness in school tackles mental health

Shriya Deshpande

I never understood why everyone kept saying “MVHS is so competitive” until my sophomore year of high school. I can remember the specific moment: My friend and I were sitting on a mud-colored bench, she chipping away at a Nature Valley bar while I rambled on about a club we were going to join. At one moment, she stopped to ask me, “Did you turn in the form yesterday?”, and before I had responded, she continued on to say “It doesn’t matter anyway. You can’t join now.”

Why would my friend purposely inform me of a hard deadline until after it had passed? Just so that I couldn’t join? Was this the toxic competition my peers kept describing?

The interaction was one notable experience in addressing my own mental health at MVHS, in terms of the definition I’ve seen online: emotional, psychological and social well-being. Mental health was no longer only meant to concern depression or anxiety or any other form of solely internal factors — it could also be a reaction to external factors like relationships with friends and parents.

All throughout middle school and my freshman year, I’d scorned school administrators’ efforts to organize school spirit and bonding activities. Seriously, how was screaming in a gym filled with pom poms and painting on posters supposed to reduce stress?

The concepts of mental health and school-sponsored events didn’t initially strike me as even remotely connected. But if mental health is partially influenced by our interactions with others, then the connection should make sense. Observing how our peers react to competition or throw themselves into cheering for Grease versus Candyland would affect how we too think about competition or school spirit. It should make sense that Student Wellness surveys, while seemingly pointless, do give administrators who can make a difference a possible insight into teenagers’ relationships with family, teachers and friends and by proxy, an insight into how teenagers might be handling their stresses.

Throughout high school, I have found myself becoming more appreciative of the administrators’ efforts to approach mental health because participating in a variety of school events together with my friends has made my relationships with them stronger and as a result, made me a happier person. Though I can’t attribute this sentiment solely to school-sponsored events, I can definitively say it’s one factor.

Still, I wonder what may have influenced my friend into saying what she said — perhaps a fear of the competition we so often discuss.

MVHS has long since carried this reputation of being a competitive, and frankly intense, school where students strive to excel in everything from business conferences and earning A’s in AP Physics to making poignant arguments about feminism. We as students know that in such an environment, it’s easy to get caught up in expressing our unhappiness about assignments that take hours or the lack of sleep that comes with studying for the SAT’s. It’s much more difficult to recognize how school spirit events, Student Wellness surveys and other similar events help us tackle the social interaction aspect of mental health.

By lessening the tendency to throw around words like “stress” and simply taking action — adding a second tutorial, advocating for discussing topics such as rape culture, creating the Community Wellness Taskforce in 2015, holding countless rallies — MVHS administrators and student leaders are starting to tackle the important aspect of mental health.

So to MVHS administrators and students in leadership: if bringing my own banana or shouting “We feel good, oh we feel so good, oh!” is helping me understand mental health in a different light, then thank you for that opportunity.