The Challenge: Attending to Students’ Mental Health
While it seems to be common knowledge that stress levels, related anxiety and depression, and substance use among teenagers are at all time highs, there remains a culture of secrecy, shame and embarrassment around these issues. In the past, Arlington High School has offered mental health awareness assemblies and events for students, but the staff recognized an increasing need to expand this programming.
How AEF Helped: An Expanded Vision
In 2017, in an effort to increase awareness and decrease the stigma associated with mental health, Arlington High School had an entire school day — Wellness Day — devoted to students’ wellness. An overriding goal of Wellness Day is to promote balance, wellness and self care among students and staff with an emphasis on the notion that if we care for ourselves we are less likely to suffer deeply from anxiety or depression.
In 2018, thanks to an Innovations in Education grant, the high school was able to broaden its Wellness Day vision by adding new creative programming for students as well as for staff. Through the expanded capacity for programming that the grant provided, students were able to choose four different workshops to participate in during the school day. Staff members had the chance to attend two workshops of their choosing in addition to running or supporting a self care workshop for the other two blocks.
Impact: Expanded Ongoing Mental Health Awareness
Students enjoyed the activities of Wellness Day, from time spent with therapy dogs to taking a group hike along the bike path to learning a new hobby from a teacher. They saw performances by the Improbable Players, a troupe the uses theater to address addiction and alcoholism, followed by Q&A sessions. According to the high school Intervention Coordinator, after Wellness Day there is an influx of new faces asking for help. In addition to the increased awareness that services exist, students report that knowing they are not the only ones struggling makes it easier to ask for help.
“The best thing about Wellness Day for me as a social worker is that I can get a message to the entire student body…There are students who make it through AHS without knowing there are social workers around to help if needed. This event always increases awareness about services available at AHS.”
Wellness Day encourages students and staff alike to recognize the importance of mental health and the powerful impact of self care. And, thanks to that AEF Innovations in Education grant, AHS Wellness Day 2019 is already in the planning stages.