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Ending the Stigma: Starting Conversations About Mental Health

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

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Photo Illistruation by Ruth Moder

Photo Illistruation by Ruth Moder

By Ruth Moder, Reporter

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The following story contains names that were changed to protect the privacy of SHS students concerning sensitive issues. If suffering from mental health call Human Development Center Crisis Line at (715) 392-8216 or (715) 395-2259 for help.

Counselor Wendy Nelson sent out a Google Slides presentation to all SHS students on Friday, May 25, that provided information about mental illness. The presentation also stated specific resources for students, including Human Development Center, Hopeline and the Trevor Lifeline. The day before sending it out, advisory teachers presented the PowerPoint to students, and then some teachers requested Nelson send it out to students.

This year has been “particularly heavy” regarding mental health, according to Nelson.

Last spring, the school sent out an anonymous Youth Risk Behavior Survey to all students at SHS in 2017. According to the survey results, 5.4 percent of students that responded to the survey attempted suicide at least once within the past 12 months of when the survey was sent out. Results also showed that 3.7 percent of male students and 7 percent of female students attempted suicide.

Psychotherapist Dr. Sarah Harter-Siltanen works at the Arrowhead Psychological Clinic in Duluth, MN, and specializes in child and adolescent therapy services with a focus on anger management, anxiety and depression.

“Mental health is the healthiness of the mind, and a lot of times you can’t see mental health issues, unlike other physical disabilities,” Dr. Harter-Siltanen said. “You never know what people are experiencing, but especially with anxiety and depression there are a lot of somatic physical symptoms like stomach ache, headache, nausea and tiredness.”

The Mental Health of America Association established the month of May as National Mental Health Awareness Month in 1949.

SHS alum Ali Haworth graduated in 2016 and stated that exhaustion goes hand in hand with her depression. Haworth is 20 years old and said that she was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic

stress disorder all within the last 10 years.

“Being mentally unstable can drain your energy and make it difficult, if not nearly impossible, to perform any task that requires physical activity,” Haworth said.

During her high school career, Haworth saw the high school as her escape from home. She described it as a place she could rely on to get a break. However, Haworth said, she was not aware of the resources at the school while she attended and felt that others would not understand her mental illness.

“I felt like I had to hide when I was having a hard time with my mental illness, and not just at the high school,” Haworth stated. “This also came from the lack of overall awareness as well as the negative stigma I know is tied to mental illnesses.”

In terms of improving one’s mental health, Dr. Harter-Siltanen believes that fulfilling basic needs is vital.

“I really think the most important thing is getting adequate sleep, eating, because those things can really impact mental health,” Dr. Harter-Siltanen said. “I think a lot of us take that for granted.”

Dr. Harter-Siltanen also stated that using distraction skills such as drawing or journaling can help someone remember the positives.

“If you’re having a bad day, write down what you’ve done and maybe you find out that there’s lots of positives in your day, maybe more than the negatives,” Harter-Siltanen said.

Dr. Harter-Siltanen stated that the best thing is to tell someone what is going on in order to stay safe, whether it be face to face, a text line or a crisis line.

“Obviously you want to let people know what we’re feeling so they can help support us, no matter who it is,” Dr. Harter-Siltanen said. “If you don’t want to talk to someone, maybe just being around other people would be helpful.”

According to Denise Selden, Outreach Advocate for the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse, it is important that society normalizes mental illness.

“If you came to me and said you needed help, I would tell you that its normal feelings that you’re feeling you know about what’s going on,” Selden said. “I’d give you some grounding techniques. Say, if it was a high anxiety, we would talk about what triggers your anxiety and to help you find ways to manage those triggers.”

Meeting someone with mental illness is practically unavoidable. Counselor Eugene counselor Eugene Powers said that listening to someone with mental illness with mental illness is an important piece in their recovery.

“Be there for them and then you let them know that you have an infinite belief in them to handle it,” Powers stated. “I’ve had students come here as freshmen and they are just paralyzed by anxiety, and they get to their senior year and have complete control.”

In relation, Selden believes that asking the right questions can make a difference.

“Ask them if they want to discuss it more, but also offer assistance in a way of ‘Do you need help going to the doctor?’ or ‘What can I do for you?’” Selden said.

Selden stressed that validating a person’s feelings can determine how the person responds.

“You don’t say ‘Well it could be worse’ or ‘ Oh just deal with it,’ because when we say these things we’re not validating their mental illness,” Selden said. “So they want to keep it to themselves which could cause them to start isolating themselves.”

According to Dr. Harter-Siltanen, parents should be having regular conversation with their kids about mental health. She recommends that it be in a private setting without other family members in a place where the child is comfortable, like a bedroom. Harter-Siltanen also recommended that parents ask open-ended questions, such as “what is troubling you?” or “tell me about this.” Harter-Siltanen said that it is important to  make their child feel like they are not the only ones that may be experiencing sadness or anxiousness.

Resources offered at SHS are school counselors, police officers and teachers. In the community, there are a variety of places including the Human Development Center, CASDA, Miller Dwan, Amberwing, Arrowhead Psychological Clinic, Textlines and crisis lines.

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