Wellness Week opens dialogue about student health

Victor Dimitrov, Staff Writer

Keynote speaker and mental health advocate Hakeem Rahim shared his personal experience with mental health at the Wellness Week assembly on Tuesday.

Rahim is the President and CEO of I Am Acceptance, an organization that works towards destigmatizing mental illness, he said.

“We thought that Hakeem Rahim’s message would deeply resonate with many members of the HM community,” co-President of the Wellness Initiative Club (WIC) Emily Zeppieri (12) said. “He preaches the importance of taking a step back to prioritize your well-being.”

Rahim feels passionately about helping students who may be struggling with their mental health, he said. Coming from a rigorous academic background, he understands the effect school can have on students, Rahim said.

“I want people to be able to talk,” Rahim said. “Before I opened up to my family about my struggles with mental health, I felt like I was hiding from them and could not be my authentic self.” He began his mission to create discussion about mental health in order to destigmatize how it is perceived, he said.

The Guidance and Counseling Office chose Rahim because when discussing mental illness, it can be particularly effective to hear someone’s personal journey, Upper Division Director of Counseling & Guidance Daniel Rothstein said.

Since Rahim was sharing his own experiences, he seemed like a much more genuine and effective speaker, Ben Doolan (11) said. Through Rahim’s personality and use of call and response, the audience was very engaged in the presentation, Library Media Specialist Caroline Bartels said.

Rahim did a great job of emphasizing the ways that mental health issues can manifest themselves and that it’s alright to reach out for help, Gloria Khafif (11) said.

The assembly also featured the song “This Is Me” performed by Ben Rosenbaum (12), Allison DeRose (12), Juli Moreira (12), and Mikayla Benson (10). The group chose this song because it stands for being true to oneself and realizing that we all have things that we should be proud of rather than embarrassed, Bartels said.

The purpose of Wellness Week is to motivate students to continue conversations about mental health and wellness, as well as incorporate wellness into the school’s daily life, Zeppieri said.

“I hope [students] come away with the idea that they are not alone,” Rothstein said. It can be really helpful to talk about what you’re going through and not struggle alone, he said.

“We hope students engage in the activities and attend workshops to learn more about mental health and discover ways to de-stress,” Zeppieri said. The objective of Wellness Week is to create a relaxed environment more conducive to open discussions about mental health and wellness, she said.

Wellness Week comes at a really difficult time of year, Bartels said. Bartels has been working with WIC to help students relax through daily activities and snacks in the library, she said.

“I know that many students silently struggle with mental health issues and with the primary focus being on rigorous academics at Horace Mann, people feel discouraged from speaking out about mental illness,” Zeppieri said. She believes that students need a safe place to discuss these issues, she said.

For Rahim, his family provided his healing space of acceptance. Through his presentations, Rahim hopes to encourage people to seek out help from those around them, he said.

“School for HM students tends to be stressful year-round, and I think that it’s important to provide the community with an enjoyable escape from the pressure, while also starting important conversations about mental health and wellness,” Zeppieri said.

Bartels hopes that Wellness Week will allow people to become more comfortable with their stress and realize that they have a community of support around them, she said.