Students promote wellness, host mental health forum

John Mauro and Jillian Lee

On Monday, January 27th, the Community Council (CC) and the Wellness Initiative Club (WIC) held a Mental Health Forum during I period in preparation for Wellness Week.
“The objective was to give students an open environment to talk about mental health,” Brooks said. At first, students seemed hesitant to share, but as the conversations began to progress, more and more students opened up about their thoughts. The groups were led primarily by CC member Yana Gitelman (11), WIC leader Emily Marks (11), and CC Chair Zachary Brooks (12), who moderated and guided the conversations.
The forum was split into two groups, and students were then able to participate in discussions facilitated by Marks, WIC leader Kate Bown (11), WIC leader Natalie Baer (12), Gitelman, and Brooks. The participants shared their thoughts on a variety of questions about the school year—both academically and mentally—in a safe environment where a free and open discussion occurred.
Since the forum was optional and the groups were self-selected, the people who attended were the people who wanted to be there, Jordan Ferdman (11) said. “Obviously, everyone has a hundred other things they could be doing, but the people who attended were making an active discussion to spend a period discussing mental health.” This enabled positive and productive discussions about mental health.
The conversations not only let students reflect upon the first semester in terms of struggles and accomplishments, but also allowed them to navigate worries and resolutions about the second semester, Marks said. “Everyone was very open with each other and able to relate to one another in a productive way.”
The conversation topics ranged from the college process to the intense work environment at the school. “I think that it’s really important to talk about mental health, especially in such a high-pressure school,” Jonas Jacobson (11) said. I think that the more open people are, the more authentic conversations are, [and] the more real we can be about issues here at [the school].”
“In a general sense, many things about the school are great and unparalleled, but one thing I’ve seen more and more is that a lot of conversations tend to harp on the negative.” Gitelman said.
Therefore, one of the goals of the forum was to start positive conversations. For example, the first prompt asked listeners to state three good things about their semester, of which at least one had to be non-academic.
It is necessary for the school to create spaces like this forum that allow students to verbally express both academic and nonacademic struggles. “Horace Mann is a tough place. In addition to difficult classes, students are also faced with a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed in their extracurricular endeavors.” Brooks said. Students also are confronted with all of the social stresses that come with being a high school student, he said.
The school’s academically rigorous nature often elevates student stress levels to high degrees. “I shouldn’t be walking into the bathroom during any given period and see someone crying,” Ferdman said.
However, some stress is inevitable under these conditions, so it is important to the community to discuss stress and mental health, Brooks said. “We want to destigmatize mental health and encourage members of our community to seek out help from both guidance and other members of our community.”
Because of this, it is important to have a space where mental health can be freely discussed, Paul Wang (12) said. “The questions they asked and the small group environment they had were very conducive towards personal discussion and introspection.”
For Jacobson, the discussion helped him destress and collect his thoughts, he said. “Hearing other people’s problems, and knowing that people are going through the same thing as me, and that I’m not alone with my struggles, and that others feel the same way as me, was helpful.”
Wang believes that the space was conducive towards reflecting on how he can improve on managing stress and his workload in the future. “I’m going to take lessons I heard from listening to my peers and how they deal with things and apply them in the future.”
Although school psychologists Dr. Ian Pervil and Dr. Liz Westphal attended the meeting, the two took spectator roles and let the students lead the discussions. “Events that are student driven tend to be the most successful; they draw in more people,” Westphal said.
The WIC hopes to host forums that cover more non-academic themes in the future, but they were pleased with the outcome of Monday’s forum, Marks said.
With regards to Wellness Week, the theme of this year is “stress and anxiety,” said Marks. During Wellness Week, workshops will be held every day, and the WIC will have a guest speaker come to HM for an assembly, Marks said. “I’m really excited that we have students who care about mental health awareness in the community who can make events like this happen,” Westphal said.