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State High students work to bring awareness to mental health issues

Since 1989, school districts in the commonwealth have conducted a survey of students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades to learn about their behavior, attitudes and knowledge concerning alcohol, tobacco, drugs and violence, known as the “Pennsylvania Youth Survey,” or PAYS.

Upon review of the most recent PAYS data, a group of students at State College Area High School became concerned over what they saw as an unusually high response rate to questions regarding suicidal ideation and questions relating to having prolonged feelings of depression. These students came together determined to find out what was behind these troubling statistics and what could be done at the student level to address them.

When I first met with these remarkable students last spring, it became obvious that they were determined to effect change. The question became how to implement their ideas. The outcome of those first few meetings was the formation of a student-run club that would come to be named My Mental Health Matters.

The goal of MMHM is to help erase the stigma attached to issues surrounding mental health, to bring awareness to the fact that nearly everyone has had feelings of doubt or helplessness and, most importantly, to let people know that no matter what, they are not alone in the hallways of State High.

The response to this club has been very encouraging. With the brave leadership of the MMHM members, we have seen the student body rally around the notion that their individual mental health has meaning and purpose.

One way this goal was accomplished was through a project asking students to fill out a poster explaining why their personal mental health had meaning. These posters were placed on display in the lobbies and hallways of both high school buildings, visible to everyone who passed by, serving as a visible reminder of the importance of each individual, that each face has meaning and purpose in the eyes of State High.

Under the guidance of high school counselors Suzanne Lyke and Patty Devecka, Jana Marie Foundation President Marisa Vicere and myself, members of MMHM have been working in overdrive to bring the message of mental health importance to not only the high school but also to the State College community.

Maybe you have seen these students featured in your local news, both in print and on television or heard them interviewed on your local radio stations. Perhaps you’ve seen them as volunteers over the holidays at various community events or most recently walking with the Jana Marie Foundation in the Out of the Darkness walk in an effort to help raise awareness of the effect that suicide has on our community.

If you have not had an opportunity to hear these amazing students discuss the importance of mental health, please join us in May where they will be sharing at the Straight Talk for Parents monthly gathering.

Shawn Bainbridge is a 10th-grade English teacher at Midd-West High School and State College Area High School alumnus.

IF YOU GO

What: Straight Talk: My Mental Health Matters

When: 7-8:30 p.m. May 17

Where: Mount Nittany Middle School, 656 Brandywine Drive, State College

Info: www.scasd.org/straighttalk

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