Calender Recognition for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness
These past two months have been significant for mental health. September is named Suicide Prevention Month, followed immediately by Mental Health Awareness Week on the first week of October. World Mental Health Day is recognized on October 10.
DGN does not fall short when it comes to providing resources, tools, and awareness regarding suicide prevention and mental health. Throughout the entire school year, groups in the building including counselors, clubs, and staff members work in different ways to support students.
The Counselor’s Department
While there may not be specific efforts targeted towards Suicide Prevention Month, the counselor’s department makes sure that suicide prevention take priority all year long, not just one month.
“As counseling and student support services department, we haven’t done anything laser focused as far as September being [National Suicide Prevention Month]. But when I look at our roles, I think we like to look at it that we [support suicide prevention] 9 months out of the year when we are all in school,” counselor Cynthia Karmik said.
When regarding mental health or any student demands, every student at DGN has an Alpha team dedicated to responding to their needs. This team consists of a counselor, social worker, dean, and school psychologist. The counselor, noted by Karmik, can be viewed as the first line of defense for many students struggling with mental health.
“I believe that our role is even more critical [in a remote environment]… because it seems like it’s even more challenging to make sure that students are getting the help they need, or if there’s any red flags, we’re getting to address them as soon as possible,” Karmik said. “With being virtual, sometimes it just feels like [red flags] can take a little bit longer, trying to determine or detect that.”
A challenge that all staff face, especially counselors, is getting important information out to students when teachers and students cannot physically see one another. Counselors have begun to use Google Classrooms as a vehicle to push essential information out. This includes material covering remote learning tips, safety protocols, post secondary planning, and more.
One thing in particular that Karmik has noticed is a shift in the conversations of academics, post secondary plans, and social emotional/mental health. In recent years, more conversations have been generated surrounding mental health.
“Over the years, I’ve watched a shift: that academic/post secondary is still there, but a higher need for social emotional support has increased,” Karmik said. “It’s one thing to know, it’s another thing to feel comfortable and talk about [mental health], and feel okay to talk about that.”
This change, Karmik hopes, is due to the various efforts the school has made to reduce the stigma of talking about mental health.
“I look at the avenues that opened up, which I hope can increase the conversation, continue the conversation, and reduce that stigma.”
One group working towards ending this stigma is Erika’s Lighthouse. Avery Lenz is only a sophomore, but is already a student leader for the club. Like Karmik, Lenz feels passionate towards breaking the stigma surrounding mental health.
“I think for a long time, [mental health] is a big thing that people try to hide… It’s hard to realize that [mental health] is such a serious thing, and a lot of people are impacted by it, whether it’s genetics, or environmental, so honestly anyone can have a mental illnes,” Lenz said. “We’re trying to make it so that, ‘Yes, I suffer from depression. Yes I suffer from anxiety. But that doesn’t define who I am.’”
Not only was Lenz drawn by the club’s goal to spread awareness on mental health, but also its kind and accepting environment. Now in her second year in the club, Lenz hopes to capitalize on this idea and make it a safe space for anyone who may need it.
“I think I’ve been through so much that I want to create an environment where people aren’t ashamed of who they are, and they don’t think that their mental illness just consumes them and identifies them as a person,” Lenz said.
Erika’s Lighthouse was started by the family and friends of a girl named Erika who committed suicide after struggling with depression. Now a club at DGN, counselor Katelyn Pantke is one of the staff leaders of the group. She describes how their club is a branch of a larger movement.
“[Erika’s Lighthouse] have inspired high schools to start their own chapters… in their own school building. They are a great resource, and they do all kinds of things in the different communities like a walk, a fundraiser, and they support us in our efforts at DGN so that we can… bring depression out of the dark and break that stigma.”
Last year, Erika’s Lighthouse lessons were implemented into Health Classes. Lindsay Giannone, who heads the PE Training program that leads these discussions, expresses the challenges that come with the remote environment.
“The presentations went very well and were powerful as usual, but it was definitely missing the conversational piece that is built into the presentation,” Giannone said. “I think these are very pressing and challenging times for everyone and I think [Erika’s Lighthouse] presentations are so valuable and even more relevant right now… I personally don’t feel like I know my students as well over remote learning and therefore, maybe students wouldn’t turn to me for the support they might need.”
One safe space at DGN for many students is the recurring Wellness Wednesday. Typically, Wellness Wednesdays are held every week during lunch periods in the library. Students can play games, make crafts, relax with friends, win prizes, and sometimes even pet therapy dogs. This year, there has been one Wellness Wednesday meeting so far, over zoom during the lunch period. Social studies teacher Sara Temple is in her second year facilitating Wellness Wednesday. To Temple, creating a safe space and connecting with students is what she feels is most important.
“I think the library is a space that has really become kind of a safe area for a lot of students, part of that due to our amazing librarians. Also, for me it was about creating relationships with the students. I met students that I hadn’t met before, and got along well with them even though I didn’t see them on a daily basis.” Temple said.
Over remote learning, there has been one Wellness Wednesday meeting so far, over zoom and during the universal lunch period. Students took part in a teacher trivia kahoot, the winners walking away with gift cards. Temple notes that various challenges arise with these virtual meetings, especially as DGN moves to a hybrid schedule.
“It’s going to get harder and harder to schedule things where everybody meets, because we all have different schedules. Some students are going to be leaving the school and traveling home for the remote part of the day, so we’re just trying to more so provide resources than meet one-on-one.” Temple said.
These resources go hand-in-hand with DGN’s mission to support mental health and suicide prevention. Though still in the works, the Wellness Wednesday Google Classroom serves to provide mental health and stress-relieving resources to students.
Temple sees the benefit in Wellness Wednesdays and looks to see them continue.
“I think we should [continue Wellness Wednesday], because honestly, students’ mental health is more important than ever. Just hearing from my students, I think it’s harder, when you can’t see your friends, to stay positive.”
Email Ms. Temple if you are interested in participating in Wellness Wednesdays!
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, DGN provides a variety of tools to help. You can visit Counseling & Student Support Services to find hotlines, mental health resources, depression awareness and suicide prevention, and drugs and teens (information for parents). The Erika’s Lighthouse website offers a remote learning program, resource portal, teen toolbox, blog, parent handbook, and more.