Social Workers Support Student Stability


Sahra Jilaow, Staff

The need for mental health workers in schools is a growing concern, as depression, anxiety, and suicide rates among high school students have increased drastically in recent years.

Henri Hemmesch, social worker at John Marshall, has been working as a social worker since the late 70’s. She has been at John Marshall since 1986, but wasn’t full time until about 15 years ago. Hemmesch roughly sees 7-8 students a day, with the majority dealing with mental health issues. Typically, they have a significant history or several symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.

Depression, which is more common than anxiety, is a physical and mental health illness that is more than just feeling moody or low from time to time. It is an everlasting struggle until help is provided. Hemmesch states, “There isn’t enough education on the signs of suicide and how to prevent them or talk to ones who are suffering. But in some students, grades may drop, hygiene, being more distant with family and or friends, choice of music may change.” Bringing awareness to these simple signs can make permanent differences in students’ lives.

When something significant like suicide happens, it’s very common to experience feelings of guilt. Hemmesch has encountered those who have lost a friend or loved one to suicide. “People who knew them have guilt because they could’ve done something, why did they let this happen, and it’s all their fault,” according to Hemmesch. Many joke about the topic of suicide, and with that, it makes it extremely confusing to determine if someone actually is thinking about ending his or her own life. It’s hard to tell if someone is joking about it, but Hemmesch suggests that if it’s a constant joke, it could be more serious than it seems, so the best thing you can do is ask. “Some people joke, and some don’t believe it when it doesn’t match their lifestyle. Many might be joking but it’s best to take the step asking if they’re okay, if you hear it more than once.” Bullying can play a role in situations like these.

Teenagers tend to not want to talk about the problems that they have. In Minnesota, the state has funded school based mental health services, so those who don’t have enough money for therapy or feel like their parents don’t understand. Hemmesch suggested going to the counselors office because someone is always there to talk.

When students at JM need help, there are two social workers, a chemical specialist, as well as the four counselors available at school. Another place students could go to is the nurse’s office, or to Henri Hemmesch for an emergency. Hemmesch believes it is her job to make sure people get help. “My job is to help people and make sure they get the help they need, there are very good services in Rochester. We are very fortunate.” You are not a burden and you are never alone.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline