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The City Journals

Joel P. students take on mental health education

May 03, 2019 10:54AM ● By Jet Burnham

Julie Evans, President of Team Prowl, works with Latinos in Action students to post positive posters. (Jet Burnham\City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Mental health issues are a concern for many students at Joel P. Jensen Middle School.

“I think middle schoolers, especially because they're teenagers, they’re having all of these mixed emotions around, and they don’t understand it quite well,” said ninth-grader Fabiola Payan Aparcana. She has watched her two brothers struggle with severe depression and said it was the little things that would add up to overwhelm them.

“A lot of people around our age are really sad nowadays,” she said. “They over-think a lot. Anxiety comes on to people really fast. Something little happens to somebody, and they think it’s the worst thing.”

As president of Latinos In Action (LIA), Fabiola worked with the group to host a Mental Health Awareness Week at JPJMS.

“This year, the kids in my class felt very strongly it was something they wanted to do,” said LIA adviser Amanda Spravzoff. “Most students’ lives have been affected by mental illness either for themselves dealing with some mental health issues or with a family member, so we’re just trying to talk about it more, normalize it and end any stigmas that are out there.”

The 37 students in LIA were joined by 25 students of Team Prowl, the school’s anti-bullying group, to implement ideas to help end the stigma of mental health issues.

The students decorated hallways with posters, sharing educational facts about mental illness as well as motivational quotes. They invited all students to sign a pledge to end the stigma of mental health. 

 A highlight of the week was a lunch time activity where students wrote kind notes to others. Jaylee Martinez, a member of LIA, helped deliver them to students during class.

“I realized that it made a lot of people happy,” she said. “People would post it on their social media. When I would hand them their card, they’d get a smile.”

Student leaders felt the awareness week had an impact on the school’s culture.

“It was explaining more about how you can be open with it and how you’re not alone because there’s a lot of kids in this school that have anxiety,” said Fabiola. Two of her friends confided to her their struggles with mental health during Mental Health Week, saying they felt more support to be open about it.

Jaylee has been selective about telling others about her depression and anxiety because she has heard kids at school joking about suicide and depression.

“When we did the Mental Health Week and actually talked about it, I realized that I haven’t heard that as much in the school,” said Jaylee. She feels more confident in telling others about her struggles because she feels like they will now understand. Even if they don’t have experience with anxiety themselves, she said they’re learning to be understanding when she explains that something makes her uncomfortable. She said having support from friends helps ease her symptoms.

JPJMS Counselor Jill Smith said many kids don’t know if what they’re feeling is a normal teenage experience or if it is something more serious.

“Students need to know resources available if they feel they are struggling more than average,” said Smith, who offers support groups for students with anxiety and depression and for students who identify or are allies to LGBTQ.

She said the awareness week provided students with a better understanding of mental health and the available resources. She hoped it reached a student who needed the information.

“If you affect one student, then it was effective,” she said.

Team Prowl hoped promoting awareness of how teens with mental health struggles feel would reduce incidences of bullying.

“You might lash out at others because you are hurting,” said Team Prowl adviser Courtney Beesley. “But mental health problems can also be exacerbated when someone is being bullied or bothered by another person. Maybe something that doesn’t seem like a big deal to someone who is healthy will be devastating to someone who is dealing with a mental illness.”

Team Prowl also presented an assembly on opioid addiction and its link to mental health.

“It felt good to have it out there and that everybody is informed,” said Julie Evans, president of Team Prowl.

She believes awareness education prepares students to take control of their addictions, anxieties and depression.

“If you don’t know about it, how are you going to cope with it?” she said. “If you don’t know what’s going on with yourself, then it’s hard to open up about it, too.”

Student leaders are pleased with how the week went and hope it will become a school tradition.

“I hope that all students feel more comfortable discussing mental health and that we’ve helped remove a little bit of the stigma around it,” said Beesley.