Mental health has long been a taboo subject, the stigma associated with such issues has kept it out of general discussion. However, after almost two years of isolation and change brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has been brought to the forefront as people of all ages and backgrounds have struggled.
Members of the St. Mary’s High School Student Council recognized the strain on themselves and on their classmates and asked the administration if there was a way to help students through this difficult time. In answer to that request, for three Wednesdays in March, Meg Frederick from the Mindfulness and Positivity Project will be at St. Mary’s High School talking with students about how to better care for themselves and others.
For Adelle Rank, senior and Myers House co-captain, understanding and caring for mental health has always been important. But during her freshman and sophomore years, she felt that most students were reluctant to talk about their struggles. Her hope is that this program will open up the conversation and help students know that they are not alone in how they are feeling.
“I see this program as a good stepping stone,” Rank said. “Students will be able to see that they are not the only ones struggling and hopefully that will help them understand that they can talk about what they are feeling. Usually once you realize you’re not alone, you feel more open to talking about it and that will help students to feel more comfortable in our school.”
The Mindfulness and Positivity Project workshops were developed by two Cheyenne Mountain High School teachers and a clinical social worker/therapist to address quieting the mind, overcoming challenges and increasing happiness. The sessions started with the seniors on March 2, and will be with shared with juniors on March 9 and freshmen and sophomores on March 16.
Senior Sydney Taylor, vice Student Council co-counsel, said in proposing the mental health program, she hoped to build upon the mental health weeks that the student body had during her freshman and sophomore years.
“The last two years have been undeniably tough for everyone, but especially for students due to COVID, which also degraded their mental health,” Taylor said. “My goal for this effort is a greater understanding of mental health and to continue the program going forward, to make sure that people feel heard and seen. I want students to know that how they feel is valid and not something to be brushed aside.”
Kimberley Taylor-Beer, a member of the St. Mary’s Board of Directors and a parent of a current senior, has been working with principal Robyn Cross, guidance counselors Mary Ann Aragon and Mike Biondini, school nurse Tara Cuccinelli, assistant principal Brigid Jacques, and faculty member Kim Will to organize the mental wellness sessions for St. Mary’s. As a parent working with the El Paso County Youth Suicide Prevention Work Group, Taylor-Beer sees the increase in awareness around mental health as one positive outcome of the last two difficult COVID years.
“The stigma around mental health has always been the biggest obstacle with those struggling to get the help they need,” she said. “Our parents’ generation never talked about such things; in contrast, our kids’ generation is the most open and willing to talk. They can teach us a lot if we are willing to listen. The silver lining of the last two years is that mental health is becoming more normalized because everyone has been challenged in one way or another. The whole world has been negatively affected and the openness of celebrities and athletes and regular people talking about mental health issues has helped destigmatize the topic.”
While on the surface much at St. Mary’s has returned to “normal,” for example students have been in-person all year with only one school-wide quarantine required thus far, Cross said the effects of the last two years are palpable.
“We see students struggling with anxiety and depression as a result of the world changes they’ve experienced and we’re trying to find ways to provide assistance,” Cross said.
Taylor-Beer said many students are grieving over what they’ve lost with so many high school experiences that they’d looked forward to either canceled or changed by the pandemic. Aragon said that while conversations about wellness and mental health have always been needed, they are certainly needed now more than ever.
“In many years of teaching and counseling, I’ve never seen students express the need to address these issues the way they are now,” Aragon said. “I think they are looking for help in feeling okay about their state of mind right now. I think being proactive and offering a chance for students to think about wellness and talk about it in a safe environment is so important.”
By Amy G. Partain
Director of Communications
St. Mary’s High School