The Berkeley High School Health Center was created in order to sponsor a healthier educational environment. It provides first aid, mental health services, and sexual health education. Expected to be an incredible tool, the Health Center has not proven to be genuinely accessible to the student population.
Long wait times and minimal hours make it difficult to find time to go. Teachers are required to give students passes to go to the Health Center at request, but for some, these long waiting times make it hard to justify missing a lot of class. The Health Center is closed for twenty minutes of lunch on most days, and the entirety of it on Monday. As it normally takes too long to stop in during the passing period, most students seek help at lunch and can end up being turned away.
If a student experiences a severe mental health issue, like a panic attack, receiving the help they need from counselors can be very difficult, given the time sensitivity of the problem and lack of flexibility in wait times. Mental health issues can be just as urgent as physical health, but because of their nature, they’re more easily placed aside.
BHS is full of teenagers struggling in a post-pandemic, modern age of mental health burdens. The only way to reliably meet with a counselor is by making an appointment, which can take several days to set up. On top of this, closing doors at crucial times makes it almost impossible to seek help in an emergency.
Of course, this isn’t the fault of the staff at the Health Center. There are several counselors, but they are almost always on call, or flooded with the weight of an entire student population, or overbooked with appointments. Students head to the Health Center for snacks or water, filling up seats and resources. There isn’t as much focus on this resource as there should be. Staggering lunches would be just one way of easing the burden that is the lack of hours, including the gap for half of student lunch.
A tool offered in other schools in the Bay Area, referred to as a “wellness center,” typically consists of a designated room, with soft lighting and a relaxing environment that is used as a place of refuge for anxious students or anyone that needs a break. BHS would benefit from the incorporation of even just a small area to provide safety or a calmer place than the bustling school environment. It would be a refuge for non-emergency mental health issues, and could also serve as a place to go for the students utilizing the health center for breaks from the stress of school. It would be near impossible for students to abuse the resource, as the idea is based around not needing a reason to be there.
BHS should be prioritizing the excellent tool that the Health Center should be, and should focus on minimizing wait times and having counselors and the resources available for student mental and physical health emergencies. Being a teenager is really rough, and we need to be serving our community and targeting adolescent issues the best we possibly can.