School starts mental health conversation

Early Monday morning, before the first bell rings, junior Sofia Munoz and the rest of the Active Minds group sits in room 162 brainstorming ideas to help spread mental health awareness throughout the high school. 

Munoz, started the new group when she noticed the school didn’t have any clubs dedicated toward mental health. Munoz knew she needed to change this because “Mental health affects everybody. Everybody has a mental health, just not everybody has a mental illness. Often people think they’re alone. It’s important to show them they’re not alone,” Munoz said. “Starting a productive conversation about mental illness here at the community we have at the high school is really important to break stigma,” Munoz said. 

Munoz is not the only one in the district starting the conversation about mental health. Last Monday, April 1, the district hosted a mental health conversation called “Let’s Talk Mental Health: A Community Conversation.” The goal of the evening was to address and educate the “Knowledge is power,” Peet counselor Rebecca Lins said. “Bringing more awareness to our district and community at large is beneficial to support one another and our young people. We have people who have suffered from mental illness in silence. We are working to reduce stigma and provide resources to help those who struggle or know someone who is.” 

Lins said she and other counselors have seen a growing epidemic of students struggling with mental health issues and felt it was time to act. “We saw other districts organizing events like these to inform their community, and we felt that we were in a season where this was critical to our community’s awareness,” she said. 

Not only did the district want to get students involved, but also the community. “Our goal was to reduce the stigma of mental health and inform our community of what we are seeing in our young people,” Lins said. 

Munoz also sees the importance of involving the community. “It can be really hard for a child to come up to their parent and say, ‘Hey, Mom or Dad. I am dealing with something right now.’ So, having an opening and accepting can play a big part on how someone deals with that internally and what kind of help they are able to get,” she said. 

One counselor from Peet, Holmes and the high school started meeting last fall to start planning the conversation. “We focused on vendors, session topics and presenters and donated items for light refreshments,” Lins said.

Once the Active Minds group heard about the idea to represent themselves at the event, they started brainstorming on how they can get involved. The group set up a station and created clever ways to make mental health more approachable. 

“We handed out little pamphlets that have the acronym ‘Make PB&J:’ Make People Better and Join Active Minds. We used that to make the topic of mental health seem a little bit less scary and to make Active Minds a bit more memorable,” Munoz said. 

Through breakout sessions and different vendors, the event touched on a variety of topics.  “We addressed what we felt like our top needs were that we are seeing most with our young people: substance abuse, anxiety, stress, resiliency in failing, physical wellness and supports with our LGBTQ community,” Lins said. 

Many vendors—like Pathways, Unitypoint, CFHS’ own club SAGA along with other supporters—were present at the event to support and inform the community about mental well being.

For this event, the counselors reached out to Lyndsey Fennelly. Lyndsey was a four-year starter and All-American at Iowa State University, who was drafted into the WNBA in 2007. After she graduated, she began training athletes to be in the best shape mentally and physically, as well as offering motivational speaking. 

At the event Fennelly opened up about a side of her that most of the public is not aware of. Fennelly has bipolar disorder. Through recent struggles Fennelly realized she cannot outsmart her mental illness with only a positive mindset and has sought help as well as acknowledging that it is “OK to not be OK.” She now speaks at different schools monthly about mental health topics. 

Lisa Brooks, a mother of students in the Cedar Fall School District, attended the event. Brooks was knowledgeable about mental health before the event, but said she learned more about the reality of many students dealing with mental illness. “I learned some additional information regarding building and strengthening resilience as it applies to students and their perception of reality. A student’s perception is often their reality, and as parents, caregivers, teachers, etc., we can help them see a different perspective and show them they have the control to create more balance in their lives,” Brooks said. 

The conversations isn’t stopping here. As many students, community members, parents and children showed up to the event, the district wants to keep the conversation rolling. Lins said the district hopes to hold another conversation in the fall.

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