Mental health matters to teens

Winters High School students dedicate entire week to raising awareness about mental health issues.
Friday Night Live members (from left) Brianna Perez, Odalys Montes and Elizabeth Gonzalez want everyone in the community to become more aware of mental health issues. Photo by Debra DeAngelo

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Winters High School students and staff will be seeing green the week of May — lots of it. Green is the official color of Mental Health Awareness week, May 14-18, and the WHS Friday Night Live members are determined to make sure that everyone is aware of that.

Bright lime green ribbons, the official symbol of Mental Health Awareness week will abound and the main hallway at the high school will be decked out in green. The week will kick off with a positive, hand-written neon-colored Post-It note on every single locker to help students start the day on a positive note. Friday Night Live member Chloie Bruhn says the group thought the Post-It day would be “inspirational” and help break down “a lot of mental barriers” that teens face, including stress, depression, isolation, anxiety and grief.

Friday Night Live advisor, Olivia Rodriquez, has been teaching for 12 years and says she’s noticed that emotional struggles amongst teens seem to be escalating. In light of multiple school shootings across the country, many of which were committed by socially disenfranchised or mentally troubled individuals, she decided that “mental health is a real issue.”

Rodriguez notes that plenty of attention is given to drug and alcohol abuse during the annual Red Ribbon Week, and the perils of drunk or distracted driving are highlighted by “Every 15 Minutes” programs, but after talking with students about how they’re feeling, she decided, “Yup. Mental health awareness. We gotta do that.”

For one thing, says Rodriguez, teens need to realize that even though they may feel alone in their struggles, they’re really not.

“They feel like ‘I am the only one feeling this way; the only one who feels stress; who nobody likes.’ They think they’re the only one who feels that way and it’s just not true.”

“A lot of teens suffer from depression,” commented Bruhn, who says the issue is widespread. “That’s why there’s been a lot of school shootings. A lot of people feel lost.”

“Some people think that nobody cares about them,” added FNL member Lilyana Driver.

“It’s hard to come forward to get help. It’s hard to admit,” says FNL member Brianna Perez, adding that some teens may fear the consequences or, worse yet, notes Bruhn that there’d be no reaction at all, that “no one would care.”

When Rodriguez started talking with people in the community about dedicating a week to raising awareness about mental health, she got a “strong response” from people interested in offering help and support. She turned the concept over to the Friday Night Live group, who started coming up with ideas.

In addition to Post-It Monday, Tuesday’s activities will include lollipop giveaways at break, and journals that will be given to students, in which they’ll be encouraged to write about their feelings. On Friday, May 18, Miss California will come to the campus to present a 45-minute “Dude — Be Nice” talk about the power of kindness, which was her platform when she competed in the Miss America Pageant. The week culminates with a lunchtime mental health awareness fair on the high school quad, which will include free gifts and information from a variety of local mental health agencies, such as Suicide Prevention, Empower Yolo and the Yolo County Mental Health Department.

“The whole week, we’re talking about mental health,” says Rodriguez.

Friday Night Live member Odalys Montes says there will be a daily bulletin during the week on the topic, as well as a mental health challenge each day for students, such as “unplugging” for one day and taking a break from social media or simply to reach out and talk to someone about how they’re feeling.

As for social medial, Rodriguez says she has noted that the prevalence of social media seems to have coincided with the increase in emotional stress amongst teens.

“Social media is the difference,” says Rodriguez definitively, noting that when she was in high school, students passed notes when they wanted to say something nasty about another student, limiting their comments to only a handful of people. Now, these hurtful comments are blasted across social media, with hundreds seeing them within second.

The FNL members, including the aforementioned students, who gathered to talk about their Mental Health Awareness project quietly nodded in agreement as Rodriguez mentioned the negative impacts social media can have on teens.

“They feel like they’re not wanted and everybody else gets all the attention,” said Montes about all the “likes” or lack thereof on Facebook and other social media. The “lack thereof” seemed to hit a sore spot amongst all at the table. Several commented that sometimes they might post a photo in which they think they look pretty good, only to be met with humiliating comments or maybe just ignored at all. Sometimes a lack of “likes” hurts more than a string of negative feedback.

“It makes people feel bad about themselves,” says Perez, particularly when teens compare their post to others’, seeing someone else getting lots of attention while their own posts are ignored.

With all this in mind, Bruhn said she hoped community members outside Winters High School would support their Mental Health Awareness Week activities because they should realize that students “are part of the community as well.”

Rodriguez says more volunteers are needed to help at the Friday festival, and there is room for more mental health groups to have information tables. Besides making everything go more smoothly, Rodriguez says it will be a positive message for students to discover that community members want to support them.

“There are a lot of people in the community who care. I think it would be a really positive message,” says Rodriguez, noting that while many other awareness-raising events are geared toward “no” — don’t drink and drive, don’t use drugs or alcohol — she wants the Friday festival in particular to be a “yes, yes, yes” and show students that they aren’t alone, and people really do care.

To offer support or volunteer for Winters High School’s Mental Health Awareness Week activities and Friday festival, contact Rodriguez at the high school, 795-6140.



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