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State High students form My Mental Health Matters club

By Chris Rosenblum
SCASD Director of Communications

From behind their table in the high school North Building, Tiffany Chen and Kaylah Urie pitched their offer.

Representing a new advocacy club, My Mental Health Matters, the seniors asked passing students whether they wanted to share a thought about mental health and contribute to a colorful and poignant display.

Students completed the sentence “My mental health matters because … “ on flyers and then posted the papers on a nearby hallway window, creating a mosaic of reflection and insight. Before the school day ended, more than 300 sheets adorned the window, with responses such as “I’m amazing” and “I deserve happiness” and “I matter.” One example declared: “Because everybody’s mental health matters, no matter who we are.”

Chen said high school students face a great deal of stress from homework, standardized tests and college planning. The club, she said, recognizes that “mental health is important for everyone.”

“I think everyone needs a little strength, and we’re going to provide it if they need it,” she said of the club’s mission.

Though mental health “is a serious thing to focus on,” Urie said, students typically don’t take the time to assess how they’re faring. Inviting students to reflect on mental health and create a wall was a chance to explore the issue together, she added.

“I think it builds a better sense of community and shows students that they’re not the only people who feel this way,” Urie said. “It’s just a matter of bringing everyone together to focus on it.”

Suzanne Jury Lyke, a 12th-grade counselor and club co-advisor along with school counselor Patty Devecka, said students were inspired to form the club last spring from the results of the 2013 Pennsylvania Youth Service survey of the district. The survey reported above-average levels of stress and depression among high school students.

“As a condition, that’s what we’re seeing a lot within (the counseling) office,” Lyke said. “So (the MMHM club) is just trying to meet the students’ needs.”

She added: “That’s why this group was born out of necessity.”

Starting out, the club worked closely with The Jana Marie Foundation and Aevidum, nonprofit organizations that promote mental health wellness, to organize, form objects and plan activities tied to World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10.

Among their initiatives, club members asked teachers to display stickers within their classrooms in support of mental health awareness and create “safe places” for struggling students. Members also placed stress tips bookmarks in mailboxes and displayed posters throughout the high school, in addition to inviting students to reflect on mental health with the colorful flyers.

Already, the club has a few honors to its credit.

Members have been invited to receive resiliency training from Dr. Leo Flanagan, a psychologist with the Connecticut-based Center for Resilience. Senior Nora Smith has been accepted to attend the first summit of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation Emotion Revolution Campaign in May at Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence. Another club founder, senior Rosie Xiong, and Lyke recently appeared on WTAJ’s Life & Health show, to add to local radio publicity for the club on 98.7 FM The FREQ.

The club even has its own logo, designed by Chen and featuring a sleek phoenix.

“The phoenix is very symbolic of rebirth and strength, and that’s what we’re out to promote with the My Mental Health Matters club,” Chen said. “Because you can’t think strong if you’re not strong.”

Currently with 16 members, the club so far has drawn plenty of peer support, including from the many football players who showed up to help create the North Building flyer display. Lyke said the show of solidarity reinforced the “Stand Together” mantra of this year’s student body.

“We’re promoting, across the board, to stand together,” she said.

Chris Rosenblum can be contacted with SCASD story ideas at 272-8699 and Follow him on Twitter @CRosenblumNews