By Michelle Hirschy, director of wellness and Grades 9–12 counselor
An Upper School group creates and hosts a new event on mental health to encourage self-care and connection.
On March 9, students from Mental Health Education hosted the inaugural Mental Health Awareness Day at LJCDS. Over the past several years, this group has been working with a mission to generate awareness for mental health and reduce the stigma sometimes associated with talking about our challenges. These students believe that mental health is just as important as our physical health, and they envision a society that values it equally.
The courage of the students in this group has never ceased to amaze me. They speak, in small groups, to the entire ninth-grade class each year with a mission in mind — “What do I wish someone I looked up to told me when I was in their shoes?” They share important information about mental health, ways to get support and their personal story. It is not easy to do this, even as adults, yet they do it so that every student on the LJCDS campus knows they are not alone. No message could be more powerful to those who are struggling.
This year, they wanted to cast that net wider by inviting all Upper School students to prioritize their mental health together on the same day. A video explaining the day was shared with the community. They encouraged self-care by unplugging for the night and connecting with family. To do this, students advocated their case with the Upper School administration to carve out a homework- and study-free night with no assessments the next day. Resources were shared with students and families that included how to start the conversation about mental health and ways to show your teen love and support. It was an overwhelming success, and they have hopes to expand into the Lower and Middle School next year.
Professionals around the country, including myself, have been calling attention to the sharp increases in youth mental health challenges since 2007. These concerns have only increased since the pandemic two years ago, and it is clear that our children are struggling like never before. The question that remains unclear is why? Our wellness team, including Dr. Nicholas Chan from Rady Children’s and UC San Diego, has been seeking clarity on this question over the past several years. As a team, we feel strongly that certain factors influence what we are seeing in our students. Some of these factors include social media, the influence of parenting styles, a lack of unstructured free play, genetic and evolutionary impacts on our health and the interconnectedness of physical health. Each of these areas is incredibly complex and could spark countless years of research.
As a school, we feel that our role is to work backward from when a student is experiencing symptoms of a clinical mental health disorder and ask what strategies, skills and protective factors would be needed to prevent this in the future for all children. We then hope to infuse those preventative measures into the experience of every LJCDS student and family.
The Mental Health Education Flex and its student leaders are an integral part of the success we hope to find. Who would know better what challenges our youth face than those wading through the uncertainty each day?