Students at Severna Park High School took the issue of mental health into their own hands during the week of February 28 to March 5, planning the school’s inaugural Mental Health Awareness Week.
“Historically, we [as a society] don’t like talking about mental health,” said sophomore Eric Lin, an executive staffer with the school’s Student Government Association (SGA). “We wanted to let students know it’s OK if they’re not feeling OK.”
Eric and co-student leader Bella Hodnett Ortiz worked with SGA advisor Christine Bowman to plan the week’s activities. Monday featured Fun Falcon Blocks. Instead of the usual 30-minute period when students seek academic support, 15 teachers agreed to offer their Falcon Blocks for relaxation time, drawing, coloring, dancing and other activities. Kahoot! Tuesday helped the students debunk mental health myths.
On Wear Green Wednesday, students distributed green pins and wristbands to match their green attire.
“We wanted to show that we, as a community, all support one another,” Eric said.
After-School Cookie Baking Thursday allowed teens to de-stress. Courtyard Connections Friday featured a fair-like event with food, drinks, self-care tips and music from a band led by student Parijita Bastola.
Senior Addison Garrett explained how every day of the week offered activities that made students feel good.
“They weren’t about competition or meeting expectations,” Addison said. “They were simply ways to laugh and find a release throughout the day with others. In a community with such a high standard, we need to continue to incorporate these little moments of freedom to take a look around and see all the goodness around us.”
The week of activities ended with a walk around Severna Park on Saturday to raise awareness.
Eric estimated that 75 to 80 students attended the walk, along with four or five parents.
“There is much more we need to do, but I hope this one act will cause change,” said junior Isabella Suhar, who was responsible for gathering food and drinks for the participants. “I am so thankful to our local Starbucks and Donut Shack for their donations! With their contributions, we were able to have coffee, water, doughnuts and pastries on the morning of the walk.”
The week was made possible by many students in addition to those business partners.
Sophomore Athena Vangraefschepe was tasked with connecting the SGA to the organization Burgers & Bands For Suicide Prevention and making sure the wristbands got made.
“I feel like the whole message of the week is so important today and everyone’s always talking about how we need to take more action to help our mental health, and nobody really does much about it,” she said, “and getting involved in the week allowed me to be a part of something to spread the important message of mental health awareness.”
Sophomore Samira Ibrahim got involved to “bring to light a situation that is often concealed.”
“We were given the opportunity to not only help the community but also ourselves and give us an outlet to have fun and share experiences, which I feel is often forgotten about,” Samira said. “It was an enjoyable time with people who cared and wanted to make a difference, which was what made these events so important and touching because anyone could have needed those days to help them out.”
Students plan to host Mental Health Awareness Week again next year, but in the meantime, they want their peers to know that help is always available.
“When someone feels depressed or sad, they might feel like it makes them appear weak,” Eric said. “They don’t know that other people have gone through the same experience.
“If they ever have issues or want to talk to someone, they should reach out to a counselor, a parent or someone they can trust,” he said.
Parents can also be supportive and look for warning signs such as a person talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose, increased anxiety or agitation, not getting sleep or feeling withdrawn, to name a few.
“Some people show signs they are not OK and it’s definitely important that we talk to them when we notice something is wrong,” Eric said. “It’s important that we all learn more about these warning signs.”
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