JHS Student Learn About Mental Health Awareness

JHS students Isabella Palermo, Giovana Calamunci and Karley Kennedy work on a group project during their “Youth Leadership in Mental Health” educational sessions.

A select group of tenth and eleventh grade Jamestown High School students are learning more about mental health to help their peers who may need a shoulder to lean on or a listening ear in times of struggle. The group is taking “Youth Leadership in Mental Health Awareness,” an informal education session with Kia Briggs, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association (MHA) in Chautauqua County with JHS School Psychologist, Susan Mead, coordinating and providing supervision.

The partnership is an offspring of meetings between the MHA and JHS administration that began last spring and culminated in an action plan this year. The three-phase plan started with an inservice training with JHS staff, continues with additional student sessions, and culminates with targeted training for 25 staff members later this spring. For this initial phase of skill-building, Mike McElrath, JHS Principal has enlisted the help of Mrs. Mead.

“I have worked in the Jamestown Public School District, as a school psychologist, for 19 years and have seen an increased need to address the mental health needs of our students,” said Mrs. Mead. “Many times, within the school setting, fellow peers will be the first to notice when someone is struggling. We are striving to increase awareness about mental health among the student population. Student participation will increase their awareness of mental health signs and symptoms, while learning about common myths and facts. The student interest in this training has been phenomenal and positive. I am very proud of the students who have taking the initiative to learn more about mental health.”

Mrs. Mead indicated that all students are encouraged to seek help from a trusted adult at school if they are experiencing challenges or are aware of a friend who may be having difficulty. More and more students are taking the step to be a support to their peers and advocate for help.

JHS faculty nominated students from a variety of social groups across the school who are viewed as empathetic listeners and caring individuals. The initial list of recommendations included 60 students. The first round of training includes 24 students but according to Dr. McElrath, JHS is planning to train more students over the next several years. “The national standard for peer support in schools is to have 20 percent of your students trained at any given time, that’s our goal.”

“I am really interested in health care as career so this will really help me moving forward,” said JHS junior Naleen Pimentel. “I am very excited to learn more information and the actions I should take if I think someone needs help and how I can help. Everyone in this group has such a positive attitude and we hope to spread that positivity to everyone at JHS. I appreciate that I got chosen and hope I can help my peers.”

The two-day session took place at St. Luke’s Church with Mrs. Briggs. The Mental Health First Aid model talking points were discussed while encouraging students to take the full certification at 18 years old. The session included role-playing activities to increase empathy; warning signs of unsafe situations and the appropriate way to provide initial help; and connect young people to professional, peer, social, and self-help care. The students are given a pre-questionnaire to determine current knowledge of mental health. Discussion topics include mental health concerns in the U.S., adolescent development, what to look for including signs and symptoms, and what to do if you are concerned about a fellow student. The students are also given a list of community resources for peer referrals and some tools for how best to approach a student they think might need help. Students hope that this information will help them help others.

“Because I know there are people struggling, I want to figure out how to help. A lot of these issues are a big deal for people my age,” said JHS junior Josh Zielinski. “Kids often think adults just don’t understand what they are going through and it is very different today with social media. They feel it’s easier to talk to someone their own age who can understand. We are hoping to be that person they can talk to.”

JHS students who participated in the training were: Giovana Calamunci, Xaymarie Carrasquillo, Corin Derby, Olivia Gates, Nadine Glover, Grayson Holt, Katleyn Hewitt, Hannah Hornyak, Derrick Howser, Alyce Johnson, Karley Kennedy, Dylan Lydell, Mason Maggio, Gillian Mead, Gianna Melton, Kendra Nickerson, Isabella Palermo, Naleen Pimentel, Matthew Roehmholdt, Gabriella Rosario, Josh Tonkin and Josh Zielinski.