Health students destigmatize mental illness

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Morgan Eaves

Counselor Carly Roach teaches Katelyn Areno’s Health class about mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Students were then instructed by Roach and fellow counselor Chris Lorenz to make a website to help students with various mental illnesses. “We all experience ups and downs so [we should] normalize mental health topics and destigmatizing mental health or mental illness,” Roach said. “Just like we get physical checkups it's good for all of us to know ways to keep ourselves mentally healthy too.”

A crowd of Health students gathered in the library to listen to counselors Chris Lorenz and Carly Roach speak about mental illness. Students took action and made websites to spread awareness about these illnesses, hoping to become a resource for those who need help.

Over the years, one of the World Health Organization’s annual topics has been depression, a commonly untreated illness in teens. This led teachers and counselors to want to spread awareness.

“It’s not just a [school] thing or a U.S. thing, it’s a worldwide problem for teenagers,” Lorenz said. “It’s more common than kids think and I think there’s a comfort in knowing that they’re not alone.”

Led by physical education and Health teacher Katelyn Arenos, students designed and built websites with information about various mental illnesses to help make an impact.

“I believe that once these websites start to get more popular throughout West, it’ll encourage more people that are struggling with mental illnesses to strive to get help,” senior and health student Cory Wentzel said.

Roughly one in every five students, about 47.6 million people, have a serious mental illness and 20% of American children have depression or will experience depression before adulthood.

“I personally do not struggle with these things [but] I can still help those who do struggle with them,” sophomore Lilly Francis said. “Through these websites, we’re able to give an outlet to look at ways to cope with mental illness or different strategies to redirect focus in trying times.”

Junior Jenny Zhang partnered with Wentzel to create a website to show everyone that not all mental illnesses look the same in different people–and they may not be as obvious.

“[People with mental illness] may feel more sense of community and more support from the school as well because so many people are going to be more aware, they’re going to learn more,” Zhang said.

Wenzel also said that he learned from making these websites that mental illnesses aren’t always straightforward. The website, created by Francis and sophomore Allie Judd, have local organizations and extra resources for students with mental health issues, or for other students to guide the students with those issues. 

“It’s more complex than just, ‘I have depression. This is me.’ [Mental illness can be] more of a hidden thing where you need to find the deep root of the problem,” Wentzel said. “The cause of [mental illness] may not be your fault, but it’s still something that you should [have] awareness of. We want to help [these people] and give them the best benefits to get out of the dark stage of suffering.”

Francis believes that these websites are “extending a helping hand” for those in need. After defining anxiety, Zhang and Wentzel’s website focuses on symptoms of these mental illnesses and coping strategies to help you mainly pointing at anxiety and anxiety disorders. Listed on the website are hotlines anyone can use, along with therapists and support groups. 

“Other people are more aware of [mental illness] now, so now we can better relate to the student body and different kids. It gives us a better awareness of everyone, what they might be going through, and how we can help them by treating everyone with kindness,” Francis said.