Mental Health Awareness week recap
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While February at Whitman used to signify a whirlwind of SGA activities and fundraisers to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, last week welcomed the first of four Charity Weeks replacing LLS month: Mental Health Awareness week.
Unlike LLS month, the goal of the week wasn’t to collect donations, but rather to generate general awareness and inform students on mental health issues, committee member Ray Crist said.
“We call them Charity Weeks, but a better phrase would be ‘cause weeks,’ because the main goals of those weeks are to support various causes while creating events that the student body will enjoy,” Crist said. “So for mental illness, we felt that the best way to support that cause was to support mental illness awareness efforts within the local community.”
The content of the week was divided by a daily focus: Monday was targeting towards addressing the stigma; Tuesday was meant to distribute general information; Wednesday was allocated to helping friends; Thursday was focused on addressing the three most common mental illnesses—anxiety, depression and eating disorders; and Friday night’s Battle of the Bandz was meant to be an uplifting end to the week.
Monday through Wednesday: stigma, information and helping a friend
The first part of the week focused on the stigma surrounding mental illness because the planning committee felt it needed to be at the forefront of their discussion, committee member Keara Sullivan said.
When originally planning the week, the committee intended to have teacher-led class discussions on stigmas surrounding mental health stigma. They later decided to cut it out for fear that rushing to prepare teachers in the little time they had could backfire on their message, as well as push back from administration over taking up too much class time.
I thought only certain people deserve to be depressed, and I thought I was just overstressed or overworked. I thought it was normal. But it wasn’t.— senior Jesse Kline
Instead, the SGA spread their message largely via social media by posting article links and information on pursuing help.
The SGA also decorated windows with posters created by art teacher Nancy Mornini’s students, made information pamphlets available, gave out green wristbands at lunch (the designated ribbon color for mental health) and hung interactive posters where students could write what made them feel good that day.
Even with the committee’s hard work, some students were left disappointed that the campaign wasn’t as present throughout the week.
“I think what they did was a heroic effort, but I didn’t notice much of anything in the hallway or on social media,” sophomore Lindsay Keiser. “When it was LLS month, you knew it was LLS month. I think a week isn’t enough time.”
Thursday: assembly on anxiety, depression and eating disorders
On Thursday, a school-wide assembly informed students about the three mental illnesses the committee felt students most would be impacted by: anxiety, depression and eating disorders. The assembly featured a presentation from Rachel Larkin, the director of Crisis Prevention and Intervention Services Every Mind, a non-profit that works with the county to provide a mental illness hotline.
Four student speakers, two for each assembly, also spoke about their personal experiences with mental illness: senior Keara Sullivan spoke about her eating disorder and depression; junior Ray Crist talked about anxiety and depression; and seniors Jessica Kline and Alyssa Miller discussed their depression.
In sharing her story, Kline urged students to acknowledge their mental health struggles as valid early on, and recognize when they need to reach out for help.
“In hindsight, it was a pretty textbook case of depression, but I didn’t see it that way. I though because nothing traumatic had happened in my life, that I could never be depressed,” Kline told her audience. “I thought only certain people deserve to be depressed, and I thought I was just overstressed or overworked. I thought it was normal. But it wasn’t.”
For freshman Lily Cork, who has anxiety, the impact of the assembly and the student speakers was the most profound part of the week.
“I really like how they took two students who a lot of people know, and that they had different situations than most people would think,” Cork said. “It showed that even these seemingly normal people could have these issues and it can happen to anyone at anytime.”
Friday: Battle of the Bandz
The SGA ended the week on positive note by bringing in dogs during lunch to alleviate stress and hosting Battle of The Bandz on Friday night in the WAUD, which the band The Monopoly won for the second year in a row. The nearly $2000 raised from the event was donated to the Maryland chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness.
“We can’t really measure the success of this week like we did in LLS month, because it’s not just about the money raised,” Sullivan said. “But the amount of people that reached out to me saying they felt personally affected and touched by this week makes it a success in my eyes.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, visit your counselor or contact one of the following services:
Montgomery County Crisis Center: 240-777-4000
Montgomery County Hotline: 301-738-2255
Montgomery County Youth Crisis Line: 301-738-9697