From October 14-19, Newman hosted its first Mental Health Awareness Week, featuring lunchtime discussions led by students from ACTIONS and other clubs, and overseen by the Middle and Upper School Counselors, ACTIONS faculty sponsors Kim Causey and Albion Sumrell, and Health and Wellness Programs Coordinator Cynthia Sleight.
The student led program was proposed by students who wanted to increase knowledge and dialogue around mental health.
"I was thrilled particularly as student-led initiatives have been found to be the most effective way to educate students about health in school settings," Sleight said.
The students put together presentations and brochures from medically-accurate information and local resources provided by our counselors, and they led thoughtful discussions about the impact mental health disorders and their stigmas have in the Newman community, the city, and the country.
Sleight considers the event a great success. “I was so impressed by the level of discourse during these discussions as the attendees embodied Newman’s values in their respect for listening to each other’s honest experiences and opinions, and demonstrated their kindness and strong sense of responsibility to work together to provide support their peers,” she said.
Please read on for a full description of the week’s presentations by two Upper Schoolers, Emmy Pilant, ’19, and Ellie Adler, ’21:
Mental Health Awareness Week was an important thing to bring to Newman because mental health is an important aspect in everyone’s lives. Watching our friends struggle with mental health during our time at Newman, we have realized how much of an impact mental health has on our community. Because mental illness among adolescents is so widespread, it is vital students are equipped with the ability to recognize signs of a mental illness and are aware of the resources provided to them throughout the community. In addition to providing resources, this week was about dismantling the stigma associated with these difficult topics and to start an on-going conversation about mental health.
We worked with Mrs. Causey and Mr. Sumrell – the sponsors of ACTIONS (A Committee to Involve Our Newman Students) – and the School’s counselors – Mr. Simon, and Mrs. Ryan – as well as the Health and Wellness Programs Coordinator – Ms. Sleight – to initiate the School’s first Mental Health Awareness Week, led by students because we thought they would be the most successful catalysts for this change.
From Tuesday, October 15 to Friday, October 19, ACTIONS paired up with six different clubs to talk about different mental health issues, and how that specific mental health issue can affect the target groups of each club. The lunchtime discussions were safe spaces in which students could speak freely about their experiences with mental illness and ways they think Newman could improve in order to promote good health and well-being.
On Tuesday, we paired up with the Social Justice club to discuss the different signs of depression and resources students can use if a loved one is struggling with depression in addition to how mental health can disproportionately affect minority groups.
On Wednesday, we paired up with Newomen to discuss the signs of eating disorders and how they can affect men and women.
On Thursday, we paired up with Young Democrats, Young Socialists, and Young Republicans to discuss anxiety, different methods of de-stressing, and how mental health legislation can affect Americans with mental health issues.
We closed the week by discussing signs of self-harm and suicidality, and how to support and get help for a friend or family member who may be experiencing these feelings. We partnered with the GSA (Gender-Sexuality Alliance) to discuss how suicide disproportionally affects the LGBTQ+ community.
The most surprising part of the week was the overwhelming support shown by the student body, with around 40 students from each grade level attending the discussions each day (a very rare occasion for a lunch meeting). Each student was able to ask questions, raise concerns, or give feedback pertaining to how the School can continue these discussions surrounding mental health. While four days dedicated to lunch discussions may seem small, it is only the first step to de-stigmatizing the issues of mental health and raising awareness among the student body. The intelligence and dedication in each of the students who attended a discussion – whether it was only one or all four – reflects the amount of potential the Newman student body has in spearheading the fight for mental health awareness. We hope to continue these discussions throughout the year and to take action to improve the School.
- Emmy Pilant ’19 and Ellie Adler ‘21