The first day of May marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Month. This month has been observed since 1949. According to Mental Health America, the aim of the month is to recognize people suffering from mental illness, educate the general public, and reduce stigma. Ramapo has several events marked on its calendar to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, from an informative Mental Health Fair to the outdoor, wellness-based event, Pochella. However, many Ramapo students question: why is it important to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month? And, is Ramapo providing enough mental health resources to its students outside of the month of May?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, depression and anxiety diagnoses among children in the U.S. are on the rise; with anxiety and depression diagnoses for children aged 6-17 increasing 8.4% in 2011-2012. According to the North Jersey Youth Suicide Report, in 2015, over 260 youth died resulting from mental health complications, with Bergen County having the most amount of suicide completions; in Bergen County five out of 100,000 youths commit suicide. Suicide rates in the U.S., and New Jersey alone, are on the rise, further proving to many that mental illness is not a problem that can be dedicated to one month only.
“I do appreciate the focus Ramapo puts on mental health, but I also think there is always room for improvement,” Ramapo Junior, Abigail McMichael said. “[…]The motivation behind the posts came from the stigma we felt was still present at Ramapo. Most students don’t consciously stigmatize individuals with mental health issues; it is something that we all have been brought up to think was taboo or too personal to speak openly about. Through our posts, we are hoping to normalize and create an open conversation around the topic. With Schoology being so public, we thought it would be a perfect way to reach all types of students, whether they are struggling or not.”
Abby has curated Schoology posts throughout Mental Health Awareness Month along with her friends, Amy Salvesen, Junior and Paige Harrington, Junior. Their posts educate the Ramapo Student body on the definition of stigma, coping mechanisms, and the act of reaching out to a friend who might be struggling. “Mental Health is something very valuable and important to me, and I think most people don’t take it seriously,” Harrington said. “A lot of people confuse mental health with mental illness, but in reality, everyone has mental health they need to take care of. I’ve only received positive feedback from my post!”
Clubs such as Students Against Destructive Decisions, or S.A.D.D., have implemented several mental health initiatives for Ramapo. The club, run by Mrs. Basilicato has organized events such as an Addicts in Recovery, or A.I.R. parent night and even a Mental Health Week of Colors, which aims to bring recognition to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. The newly implemented Ramapo Relax club, run by Ms. Calabrese and Ms. Yerger, has a wellness based approach. There, students have the opportunity to unwind from the school day and learn how to utilize beneficial coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness. According to the wellness magazine, Mindful, mindfulness is defined as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Forbes reported mindfulness has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and lower or prevent rates of depression.
Harrington believes that Ramapo cannot attain a stigma free environment until the administration puts mental health first through fostering more mental health initiatives and holding more mental health geared events. “It may not seem like [there] have been many changes, but I believe that Ramapo is on the path to accepting and acknowledging mental health,” Harrington stated. “More and more people are becoming aware that taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health.”
On Thursday, May 23rd, Ramapo’s Mental Health Fair took place during lunch periods; open to students, parents, and faculty. The wellness based event, Pochella is set to take place on Friday, May 31. All proceeds from the event will go towards The Brain and Behavior Foundation and the Semicolon Foundation.
Featured Image: Photo Courtesy of Mindful
By: Tara Lamorgese, Staff Writer