Startling statistics revealed at FHS mental health meeting

The statistics are startling: with the average high school class in Knox County roughly 30 students, six or more of those students meet clinical symptoms of depression and other conditions. Four students have contemplated suicide. Three have planned it, and 2.6 students have attempted it.

At the Thursday, Sept. 14, parent meeting titled “Typical or Troubled: Know the Difference, Make a Difference,” in Farragut High School’s Vickie B. Wells Auditorium, Ben Harrington, with the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee, shared information with an audience of about 40. The meeting was sponsored by FHS PTSO.

“I can tell you this is something that’s so important,” said FHS principal Ryan Siebe, who opened the meeting. “I’ve never been any place where people take caring for students more importantly than they do here … I want to thank Lori Moczadlo, PTSO president,” he said.

Harrington’s talk was engaging and quick-moving, covering topics from brain development to stressors to warning signs parents should be aware of, including being sad or hopeless, earning bad grades and being easily angered.

“This year we’ll be in over 100 schools, including every Knox County middle and high school,” he said. “We’re going to teach students what to recognize and what’s observable in their peers and then have the tools to turn to a trusted adult.”

“After everything that happened last year with the three suicides, we felt it was really important to provide some education for parents,” Moczadlo said the week before. “This seminar will provide a lot of good information to parents helping them decipher between what is normal in a teenager and what kind of things are not so normal that might be red flags. If they see those red flags, then hopefully they’ll get their children help and we won’t have the situation that we had last year.”

“We don’t want you to diagnose a soul,” Harrington said. “We want you to notice changes in your child … The teenage years are tough.”

“I attended the event both as a parent and a mental health provider,” Tanya Wellman said. “I am a licensed professional counselor at the Goodman Center here in Farragut, and I also have a daughter who is a junior at FHS and a daughter who just graduated and is a freshman at UT. I thought the event was a fabulous way to both educate and give resources. I talked to many of the parents afterward about the logistics of getting help — how to call the insurance companies, what questions to ask the counselors, and other resources available, such as group counseling. I appreciate the PTSO for organizing this event and hope it’s just the beginning of a dialogue about mental health for students and parents.”

“I thought it was a wonderful forum and think the community as a whole would benefit from the information shared last night,” parent Heather Benson said. “The concern and caring of our students was evident in the speakers, the FHS administration and the parents and community members who attended. The same can be said of the mental health professionals who were there to answer questions even though it was after hours and was surely time they could have been spending with their own families. I wished more folks from the community, parents and neighbors alike, would have taken advantage of the opportunity to learn more about how to recognize the signs of mental health issues before it is too late to seek intervention and help.”