Mental Health Fair Raises Awareness, Provides Coping Strategies

Video by Clayton Helstrom

Article by Ann McHugh and Clayton Helstrom

For every group of four people, one person is dealing with some sort of mental health issue. 

That is the statistic Alexa Moody shared with the Cedar Cliff audience during the Feb. 14 assembly held as part of the Mental Health Fair sponsored by the Aevidum club. 

Moody of pleaselive.org speaks to teens about struggling with depression, getting help, and healing oneself. As part of her presentation, she shares her mental health credentials and her own history with depression dating back to childhood.  Moody explained various types of mental illnesses and symptoms and stressed there should not be a stigma that prevents sufferers from seeking help.

One powerful portion of the assembly occurred at the end when boys’ soccer coach Brian Osborne shared his experience with the recent suicide of his best friend.  Osborne stressed the need to be physically present in the lives of those we care about and not rely electronic devices and social media contact. “Go in person.  Ask the questions.”

Club member senior Hannah Flick said Aevidum, which means “I’ve got your back,” began last year as a means of bringing suicide and mental health awareness to the forefront and letting others know they have support if they are struggling with such issues.

The Mental Health Fair was configured on a rotational model to move homeroom groups of students and teachers through various activities and stations designed to demonstrate positive ways to deal and cope with stress.  Seniors and juniors attended the first assembly session while sophomores and freshmen engaged in the station and homeroom activities.  Then the grade level groups switched the rotation. Students followed the early dismissal schedule to create afternoon time for the mental health activities.

While some students rotated through stations such as yoga, circuits, martial arts, barre/stretching, human pretzel, drumming and music for meditation, others were in their homerooms finding more passive ways to deal with stress. They received mental health hotline/app cards, wrote stressors on index cards, made coping strategy fortune tellers and colored pages. They also traced one of their hands onto construction paper to be used for a future activity.

Adviser Deb Kutz said that students reacted differently to the fair. She said one popular activity was tossing into a controlled burning courtyard fire index cards on which they had written their personal stress-inducing issues . “Kids liked the burning, the release of their stressors.”

Another popular station was the cross the line activity. As station leaders called out statements like, “Cross the line if you’ve cried in the last week,” students would step forward, cross a line on the floor and turn around to face the students who had not “crossed the line.” Several were surprised by how many others were experiencing or had experienced the same types of losses or adverse experiences.

“The activity was designed to show students that they are not the only ones feeling a certain way,” adviser Peg Wrigley said.  “We wanted our students and teachers to be aware of the difficulties we all go through.  We don’t want anybody to be afraid to reach out to help or to ask for help.”

Flick said the ACE survey in the library was helpful too.  Students were asked to take a 10-question anonymous survey about adverse childhood experiences that cause stress in life. Flick said she and her partner senior Jalyne Perry used the survey as part of the AP Statistics midterm because they wanted to collect meaningful data that could be used to help address issues causing stress for students.   “A lot of people took it seriously.”

Adviser Breanne Engelhardt said she thinks the ACES survey helps identify areas of toxic stress that some of our student population may be facing. “We can help our students develop the proper coping skills to live a mentally healthy life if we know what we need to focus on.”

Engelhardt said she decided to join as an Aevidum adviser because she believes mental health impacts each of us. “Some of us struggle every day with mental illness. Others may go home to a parent or sibling who is suffering, have a friend that struggles and some might not even know they are struggling.”

Kutz said she and the organizers received lot of positive feedback from staff, but acknowledged that there were some adjustments needed for next time.  “We had some traffic flow issues with moving groups of students and managing enough time for some of the stations.”

The Aevidum club plans to continue raising mental health awareness through a fair such as this one. “We want to do it next year. We want to continue the momentum and make it more impactful,” Flick said.

Club member senior Danielle Stanton, one of the fair organizers, said time management is something the group would address next year.  Even so, “For our first time doing it, I would say it was successful.”

Prior to the Feb.14 Mental Health Fair activities, during flex periods Feb. 13 teachers took students to the concourse area outside of gym lobby to browse displays from local mental health organizations and businesses that support mental health awareness.

Engelhardt shared her philosophical view of the Mental Health Fair. “Even if this day of activities and assembly changed only one person’s life, it was worth it to me.”

Senior at Cedar Cliff High School. I really like music and writing.

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