What Oak Park High School is doing to combat America’s mental health crisis

Resources available to OPHS students


Photo Courtesy of Penelope Kladopoulos

The mental health crisis American teens are facing is one of great complexity, consequence and severity. According to a CDC Data Summary on Youth Risk Behavior, “In 2021, more than 4 in 10 students felt persistently sad or hopeless, nearly one-third experienced poor mental health, 1 in 5 students seriously considered attempting suicide and 1 in 10 attempted suicide.”

Discussions about mental health, although more common now, are still very stigmatized and talking about heavy subjects like suicide can be uncomfortable. But we are not hopeless in this struggle. Oak Park Unified School District is working diligently to make it easier for students to talk about these difficult topics. 

The OPHS Wellness Center opened up its doors to students in early November and has been growing ever since. There is also a virtual Wellness Center for students who need help off campus. New wellness counselor, Fatima Hernandez, is excited about the future of the Wellness Center and the help she will be able to provide to students.

“I am so happy to be the person to be there for them [OPHS students],” Hernandez said. “We are trying to build a space and community where students feel comfortable having these tough discussions and opening up about the things that bother them. Our hope is that they can use the Wellness Center as a place to destress and get away from the craziness.”

The Wellness Center has a variety of rooms and activities to help students become more intune with their emotions. The center is furnished with comfy chairs, saggy bean bags and drawers filled with different puzzles, stress toys and activities. Its shelves are lined with books and pamphlets to help students understand and overcome the heavy emotions they may be feeling and the building contains a variety of rooms with different ambiences to fit the needs of everyone.

The center hosts workshops and talks that focus on positive mental health practices and healthy coping skills. Hernandez is hoping to bring new workshops and activities to the community to build support systems for those who are struggling and educate staff, students and parents alike on how to help. 

“I think it’s important to educate yourself so you know how to help when you can, so you know how to approach a situation and what types of questions you should ask. I am hoping to bring a new training program, safeTALK, to the high school for anyone interested in learning more about how they can help. I recently participated in the program and it’s very interactive. It has a lot of good resources that people can use to inform themselves. I am very excited about it.” Hernandez said.

OPHS’ Beginning and Advanced Peer Counseling groups are also great ways for students to help their classmates. APC’s goal is to make OPHS a “No Place for Hate” school and to combat intolerance, bullying and hatred. APC counselors work to provide support for students who need it and anyone interested in talking to them can send a request through this Google Form.

In addition to visiting the wellness center or talking to a counselor, OPHS students can use OPHS’s Report it to voice any concerns they have anonymously. These resources are available to all students in the district and everyone is encouraged to check them out. 

Hernandez only sees OPHS mental health programs growing and becoming more impactful in our communities. She has a very positive outlook for the future of our school and is looking forward to growing and changing alongside students.

“I totally see this growing bigger and better. This is so new but it has already been going so well. Who knows what we’ll be doing in the future? I am always looking for feedback from students so that we can keep improving this place and our system,” Hernandez said.