By: Jessica Lemond, Junior
From January 23-27, HHS Leadership class held its first Mental Health Awareness Week. The week informed students of common mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, tick disorders, Schizophrenia, OCD, and various eating disorders through daily announcements, fundraising efforts, a scavenger hunt, an art contest, and a resource table.
“We passed out an estimate of at least 100 resources to the students, and raised $600 toward the non profit organization, To Write Love on Her Arms.” said senior Maddie Elliott, the leadership student who jumpstarted planning for the week. “I personally think the week was a great success.”
Mental Health Video
The highlight of the week came from a band of students who wrote,, directed, produced, and starred in a documentary. The documentary featured personal stories from Christine Connell, the mother of Adam Connell who was lost to suicide in October of 2015; Mr. McCreedy, English teacher, and an anonymous student confession.
In the video, McCreedy shared his struggles with depression while he was in college. Instead of seeking help, he chose to avoid his feelings. “I was really inspired by the vision Maddie Elliot and her Leadership peers had for addressing these topics with the whole school,” McCreedy explained. “These are really difficult times to be a kid. I’m aware of a pretty dramatic increase in stress levels and resulting mental health issues among teenagers—and even younger students. I wanted to share my story because I wanted to be part of the effort to ‘stamp out stigma’.”
The student body received the video with grateful tears and inspiration. The video was aired in all 5th hour classes on Friday. The Leadership class provided discussion question to the staff and students in hopes to help students understand their feelings. “I hope the takeaway from the video is that we need to be aware of our mental health, that we have to actively maintain mental health, and that we need to support each other when we struggle,” McCreedy said.
Many Holly students were involved in the video, both on and off camera. One of them was junior Jewelle Hoisington, who portrayed two roles: a character who struggled with self-harm and the profile of an anonymous student who struggled with an eating disorder.
“I have always been impacted by depression and anxiety,” Hoisington confessed. “Last trimester was a time that my depression spiked, and I was lost. I felt that there was no way out of my own dangerous thoughts and I was a threat to my own life. When the idea of MHA Week and a video were brought to the table, it gave me a glimmer of hope that I could help raise awareness for others who have suffered in silence. I want to be a part of the change.”
Hoisington is grateful. With the help of professionals and support from her friends and family, she has never reached a point where she purposely harmed herself, but the character in the video was still very meaningful to her. “I wanted to do my absolute best and act as realistically as possible, so no one was offended by my part,” said Hoisington. “I was very nervous; there were so many things that could go wrong, but in the end, it was incredible. Watching the other parts of the video brought me to tears. Everything was so intricate and well thought out.”
Counselor Nicole Lusk thought the video was one of the best parts about the whole week. “It was so well done. I was blown away by the talent our students have. I hope the video will spread a message of hope and help students speak out when they are in need of help,” said Lusk.
Behind The Sceens
In October, Elliott and her leadership cohort, junior Michelle Paez, were inspired to organize this week after reflecting on the death of student Adam Connell due to suicide. “A year ago, many students and faculty members were struck by the silence that surrounds mental health,” said Elliott. “They realized that so many feel isolated and alone in their struggles with mental illness. As we progressed in our search for a solution, it seemed like every person at the school was a gateway of encouragement and action.”
Elliott presented the idea to Lusk, her counselor, who encouraged her. “I tried to support Maddie with her ideas and offer my guidance and opinions,” Lusk said. Elliott and Paez started a mental health group that welcomed everyone. “We started talking to the people around us and realized that it wasn’t just a cool thing to do but a very necessary thing to do,” said Paez. “From there, everything grew. It became a Leadership project, and everyone got more involved.”
With the help of Lusk and Mrs. Chambers, Holly High School’s social worker, the students researched all the disorders they hoped to cover. Chambers was excited to learn that mental health was becoming a priority at Holly. It also benefited her personally. “When doing research and fact-checking on the different areas of mental health, there is always something new to learn and there are always new and interesting discoveries in the field,” said Chambers.
The counseling staff checked all the students’ research for accuracy before releasing it to the student body. Info on the mental illnesses covered, counseling, financial need, and crisis hotline info were provided during lunch hours. In addition, helpful apps for your smart phone, which aim at managing mental health, were provided. These are still available in both the front and student office.
Leadership’s public relations coordinator, senior Mateas Stack, helped spread awareness outside of the high school too by contacting the Oakland Press. They featured the Leadership class’ efforts in one of their weekly features.
This was just the tip of the iceberg. The 44 hardworking students in Leadership class, advisor Mrs. Hollopeter, the counselors, and Youth Action Board, all worked diligently to ensure that staff and students alike received positive messages to stamp out the stigma of mental illness. “The entire leadership class jumped on board and never grumbled about things changing, but rather ran with the innovations with poise and dedication,” Elliott said proudly.
As the mastermind of Mental Health Week, Elliott took on a major leadership role. “I discovered that being the leader of a big event like this turns you into something like Mrs. Incredible, having to stretch in a million directions and attend to a million things at once. Once we laid the foundation for our plan however, the power of the oiled leadership machine kicked in, and I feel so lucky to have had those 44 students to make the week such a success.”
Elliott has started a tradition, and the Leadership class plans to continue her legacy and host a Mental Health Awareness week every year. “It is truly bittersweet to leave the high school after such a positive movement has been set in motion, but I know it is in great hands, and I will be back to see how it goes in the coming years,” she said.
Elliott plans to continue to spread her passion for mental health wherever she goes. “I would love to bring Mental Health Awareness events to more high schools and even colleges. For some societal problems, large movements are necessary for change. I think this is true of mental health issues, being that so many push this topic under the rug and perpetuate the stigma and the problem itself in doing so,” said Elliott.
Elliott currently plans to major in psychology. As someone who struggles herself with anxiety and negative thoughts, she hopes that this week has inspired people to seek help if they need.
At Holly we are stamping out the stigmas surrounding mental health.