Mill Creek Middle students packed the cafeteria this past Thursday, Feb. 7, with cheering, excitement, and enthusiasm for an all day conference – Mental Health Matters.
“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act,” Molly Kalich, first-year Social Worker at Mill Creek and event organizer, explained to students. “It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.”
The conference is in response to rising concerns about the health and mental well-being of kids. According to the Michigan Department of Education,
- Rates of absenteeism and tardiness are much higher for students with mental health disturbance.
- Emotional, behavioral and social difficulties diminish the capacity of children to learn and benefit from the educational process.
- Increased physical, social and emotional well-being can improve academic performance.
- Approximately 20% of children and adolescents suffer from a mental illness resulting in mild functional impairments AND an estimated 10% have moderate to severe impairments.
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth in Michigan.
- Many people do not seek treatment for mental health concerns because of the stigma attached to it.
The cafeteria packed with excited students was quiet as they watched comedian Kevin Breel give his moving Ted Talk, Confessions of a Depressed Comic, on the big screen.
“Real depression isn’t being sad when something in your life goes wrong,” explained Breel. “Real depression is being sad when everything in your life is going right. That’s real depression, and that’s what I suffer from.”
“The severity of it and the seriousness of it is this: every 30 seconds, every 30 seconds, somewhere, someone in the world takes their own life because of depression, and it might be two blocks away, it might be two countries away, it might be two continents away, but it’s happening, and it’s happening every single day,” said Breel.
Mental Health Matters focused on raising awareness of mental health and opening a door for students to begin having conversations about it. In addition to the all school assembly, students attended 4 workshops of their choosing where they engaged health professionals and talked about the importance of taking care of their mind and their body.
“Mental health and wellness is not about feeling happy all the time,” Jaz Brennan, Community Health Educator for Corner Health Center told the assembly. “When you think ‘wellness’, I want you to think ‘balance’. That’s it. It’s that simple.”
Workshops included such titles as:
- Brain Food. Eating for a healthy mind.
- Discover Your Strengths.
- Breathe, Stretch, Let It Go.
- Empathy Matters.
- Help! I’m in a Mental Health Crisis!
Local psychologist Dr. Martin Fletcher of Renew Hope Counseling presented one of the workshops titled How to Fight Depression & Anxiety. Dr. Fletcher taught students the causes for anxiety and depression and how to react and anticipate them. He empowered students with an awareness of risk factors, daily mental health evaluation, and where to go for help.
“I have four kids in Dexter schools so I hear a lot about what kids experience in school,” says Dr. Fletcher. “Kids are not usually taught what an emotion is, let alone how to regulate them or how to keep themselves in a lifestyle that prevents depression and anxiety.”
“Kids right now have all sorts of pressures coming down on them, and they don’t understand them,” he says. “What I’m hoping to do is teach kids how their body works, what an emotion is, what depression and anxiety look like, and what to do about them.”
Dr. Fletcher focused on helping kids realize that stress shows up through physical symptoms. If they are experiencing certain symptoms, it is a mental/emotional issue and not just a physical problem. Students can be taught how their body responds to stress and develop a lifestyle that moves them forward rather than holds them back from apprehension.
“I’m going to teach them they don’t have to feel a victim to their emotions,” said Dr. Fletcher. I’m going to teach them what depression and anxiety are, how to recognize them before it gets out of hand.”
The theme for the day was that maintaining positive mental health takes a lot of time and practice. Students were encouraged to consider ways that they could introduce some of the conference ideas into their educational experience as well as outside the classroom and to open up and talk it out.
As Kevin Breel concluded in his Ted Talk, “The only way we’re going to beat a problem that people are battling alone is by standing strong together … by standing strong together.”