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- A survey that shows a great struggle -

Katie Heinsch takes on mental health issue at Lake Oswego High School

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Katie Heinsch's high school career did not turn out like she had hoped. But Heinsch has left an important gift for students at Lake Oswego High School.“I’m struggling,” Katie Heinsch realized. “Where do I go for help?”

Surprisingly, she found what she needed within herself.

Once it seemed that Heinsch had everything she needed to succeed at Lake Oswego High School. But as a senior, it appeared she wouldn’t even be able to graduate. Her present was troubling, she said, and her future was cloudy, to say the least.

But somehow Heinsch found the answer that she could help herself by helping other students. As painful as her struggles with mental health were, Heinsch knew she was hardly alone. There were many others just like her, hurting from anxiety, depression or even cutting disorders, but not finding the resources to help themselves.

Now, thanks to Heinsch, they have an excellent resource. She conducted a mental health survey that covered more than 1,000 students, and now the school has a bedrock of information that could be a starting point for efforts to help students with mental health disorders. To Heinsch, mental health is at least as important as academics to students, and she hopes this matter is addressed as soon as possible.

“I noticed a lot of students struggling with mental health issues,” Heinsch said. “My survey showed what I suspected. There are all of these struggling students and zero support here.”

Heinsch’s high school career got off to a brilliant start. She achieved a 4.0 grade point average as a freshman and sophomore. But at the end of her sophomore year, she was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression. Her grades dropped sharply as a junior as her depression grew worse. She remembers one painful moment that also showed she was not alone in what she went through.

“As a freshman, one of my friends told me, ‘Katie, I cut myself,’” Heinsch said. “That upset me so much that my own mental health went down.”

From then on, her high school experience became increasingly painful. She plummeted from the honor roll. Efforts to obtain help at the school sometimes resulted in Heinsch leaving an office in tears.

“Despite having help and support outside of school, my academic career took a huge hit,” Heinsch said. “I ended up not being able to pass many of my classes because I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of bed.”

Yet she did not totally give in to despair. She wanted to show that mental health problems were a huge issue at Lake Oswego High School.

“I think I know more students with mental health issues than I know students without mental health issues,” Heinsch said. “Most students know there is an ongoing problem at our school. All of my experiences in life made me think I needed to do something about this.”

The answer was a mental health survey, she said.

The first step was for Heinsch to take her idea to Cathy Turner, psychologist for both Lake Oswego and Lakeridge high schools. Preparing the survey was a lengthy, difficult task, because Turner and Heinsch both wanted ot to be comprehensive. But Turner was a bulwark of support for Heinsch, and the effort succeeded.

Once the survey was ready, Heinsch needed students. You might think most high school students would quickly reject a project that would pin them down on their mental health, but Heinsch found that very much the opposite was true. She got 1,100 responses and “everyone took it really seriously.”

Although the response was gratifying, it fell short of painting a complete picture of mental health at LOHS.

“A lot of students with depressive anxiety just don’t come to school very often,” Heinsch said. “Five people I know just weren’t here to take the survey.”

Still, Heinsch said enough students took the survey to confirm what she believed, especially about attention to academics totally overshadowing concerns about mental health.

“We can’t have academics way up when students are struggling with mental health issues,” Heinsch said. “We need to incorporate mental health into the curriculum.”

In a survey full of eye-opening results, perhaps one stands out.

“Thirty-nine percent of the students reported knowing three or more students who have self-harmed,” Heinsch said. “It would be rare to come across a student who doesn’t know at least one other student struggling with stress, anxiety and/or depression.”

Heinsch was “really banking on this effort going somewhere,” and her hopes have come true. Turner has succeeded in convincing school officials to hold a mental health assembly on March 31.

It should serve as a gateway to increased knowledge about mental health at LOHS.

“Once you find out something is happening, how can you not do something about it?” Heinsch asked. “What if students break down in college and become alcoholics? Maybe if parents know about this, they’ll do something about it.”

Heinsch still has her troubles. She will not graduate this spring. She is making plans to obtain her GED. Her high school career has been a disappointment for someone so gifted.

Although she is confident her life will work out in the future, she said, “I’ve given up a lot of my own dreams.”

Yet Heinsch has also made a tremendous accomplishment.

“I love this school. It’s a great school,” she said. “I wanted to leave it a better place.”

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..