Prevention Week destigmatizes mental health struggles

Ella Naugle, co-news editor

Prevention Week is aimed towards breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and substance issues and will take place May 7 through May 14. English Teacher Afrodite Skaouris, member of the Student Assistance Program (SAP), explained that after a student at Glenbrook North committed suicide this winter, Student To Student came to her for help in creating this event at the Glenbrook schools.

“After the tragic loss of a peer this past winter, students at North and South really wanted to have their voices heard about this issue,” Skaouris said. “The goal of Prevention Week is to not only spread awareness of the mental health issues that students across the entire district have been struggling with, but also to explore the stigmas that exist, to provide tools for students to use to have conversations with their peers and the adults in their lives and to think about various coping strategies that are healthy and productive.”

Prevention Week is a nationally organized event held by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) from May 9 through 15, although South will hold their event a week early, Megan Shipp, Student To Student sponsor said.

“We are holding our event a week early just because of scheduling, but the goal of the week is to bring awareness to substance use and mental health issues in the adolescent population,” Shipp said. “Our district’s goals are basically the same [as SAMHSA]: breaking the stigmas associated with mental health issues and substance use issues so students can access the help they need.”

While Prevention Week is nationally recognized, students, staff and Peer Services came together to plan District 225’s approach to this event, Shipp said. Numerous student-led meetings helped plan the week and decide which discussion topics will be focused on.

“Student input has been crucial to this process,” Shipp said. “Our students drive our meetings and their input has contributed to our different activities and which aspects of mental health and substance use we are going to focus our conversations and resources around.”

Senior Gianna Cassin, Student To Student member, helped plan Prevention Week and hopes students will feel more comfortable talking about mental health after participating in the optional activities.

“This week is so important because especially with Covid-19, people’s mental health has definitely declined and we need to talk about it,” Cassin said. “I hope students take a lot more knowledge about mental health away from this week.”

Meaghan Fastert,  P.E. teacher and member of SAP, helped plan Prevention Week and commends students for their dedication in creating the event.

“The students have been absolutely amazing in terms of putting this week together,” Fastert said. “This has truly been a student-driven process and I am so proud of what each student has brought to the table along the way. They are willing to meet on a weekly basis during their lunches to create a week that will spread awareness for mental health.  Their ideas and stories have touched my heart and I am so proud of them for what they have created.”

Christina Seaborg, Glenbrook North social worker, explained that the Prevention Week will help educate and provide students with resources for their mental health. She hopes that after the event, students will not feel alone when they are struggling and be encouraged to reach out for help.

“We want to share tools and resources for students to feel connected and supported in their own mental health and in interacting with others,” Seaborg said. “Our hope is students will feel supported by the Glenbrook community and have a better understanding about mental health and the support and resources that are available. The goal is to break the stigma, help students access resources, share stories and know they are not alone.”

Each day of Prevention Week will have a theme: “Breaking the Stigma”, “Let’s Talk About it”, “Starting the Conversation: How to Ask for Help”, “our voices” and “Now What?” Skaouris said. She noted that there will be daily activities in accordance with each theme.

“We are planning to have students do targeted journaling in their P.E. classes as part of their Social Emotional Learning curriculum, and [we are] hoping to host an evening for students and parents during the week too,” Skaouris said.

Shipp explained that various members of the Glenbrook community will share their mental health journeys in hopes of educating others. Additionally, students will also be provided resources to help improve their mental health she said.

“We will be sharing videos from students and staff to educate and share their own stories about mental health, [while also] providing resources for students needing help,” Shipp said. “[We want to help] educate [students and provide] information about breaking the stigma, and [give] chances for students to reflect about their own mental health and recognize areas in which they can improve their coping skills.”

Shipp said that Student To Student has always been passionate about mental health, however, she believes that people have put an even larger emphasis on mental health this year.

“Both schools wanted to do something together to show our students just how dedicated we are to bringing awareness to student issues and supporting our students’ needs,” Shipp said. “While mental health is something students talk about a lot during their time at GBS and GBN in various classes, I think this is a time that we can all talk about this collectively at the same time.”

Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel hopes the Glenbrook community will become more aware of the importance of mental health as a result of  Prevention Week and encourages students to take advantage of the resources that are offered.

“I hope students will take away the idea that we have to be intentional about taking care of our mental health, just as we do our physical health,” Fagel said. “And that it’s normal to experience challenges with your mental health.  I want students to know there are so many resources and strategies to help them— both in our school and our community.”