Mental health has long been an important issue for teenagers, and many people are just now becoming aware of how severe a problem it is. Burlingame High School students are beginning to take action as well, as juniors Vivian Yuen and Emily Tam formed the BHS Mental Health Club this school year.
The club meets to raise awareness for mental health issues and reduce the perception surrounding it. Many people are afraid to admit that they see a therapist or seek outside help to deal with issues such as depression and anxiety, but the Mental Health Club is promoting the message that there is nothing wrong with people who get outside assistance.
“Mental health is a pretty big problem in schools, and there’s always a stigma around it,” Tam said. “I wanted to create this club because I’ve noticed issues in society and in my friends, and there’s not a lot of awareness around it.”
Currently, the club is participating in the statewide Directing Change video contest, where they must produce a one-minute public service announcement with the prompt “Mental Health Matters.” They view the PSA as a fun yet effective way to get their message across. Even if they do not win, they still plan to air the video on BTV and use it as part of their effort to increase consciousness about mental health in the BHS community.
“We thought that a video would be a good way of spreading awareness to everyone in the school and we felt that it would make the most impact if we screened it to every student,” said junior Kaili Shan, who is helping make the video. “Our theme is ‘Mental Health Matters,’ and we really want to emphasize that to the students, because a lot of people think they’re healthy if they’re just physically okay, but we want to stress that your thoughts also affect your [well-being].”
In the video, the club is focusing mostly on anxiety, stress and depression, all issues that many high school students face. It is intended to show how many students hide the fact that they face mental health challenges. They may appear happy on the surface, but inside they are fighting a battle that nobody else knows about and keeping everything private can be unhealthy.
“We’re saying that seemingly normal people have issues, and we don’t want people to bottle them up and think they’re insignificant,” Shan said.
The Mental Health Club has also begun working closely with the new wellness counselors, sharing ideas about how the counselors can work with students and make teachers and parents more aware of the challenges these students are facing. The wellness counselors, in turn, have been advising the club in terms of how to make sure that mental health issues that students face do not negatively affect their academic or social well-being.
“We gave a presentation to their club at the beginning of the school year,” wellness counselor Ali Crisafi said. “We explained to them what we do, and [talked about] resources that are available on campus and outside of school so they can spread the word to other students in case they may be struggling with some sort of mental health issue.”
In addition, Yuen and Tam have met with Dr. Steven Sust, a psychiatrist, and Vicki Harrison, a social worker, from Stanford University. Sust and Harrison serve as mentors for the club and gave them the idea of participating in the PSA contest.
“We support the efforts of the Burlingame Mental Health Club because creating mental health awareness on campus and educating and empowering student peers is a powerful way to fight stigma,” Harrison said, “and link students with mental health support as early as possible before issues become more serious.”
Through all of their efforts, the club has not lost sight of their goal of helping students get through their mental health challenges, changing the perception of these issues and making sure communication is taking place between students with mental health challenges and their parents, teachers and peers.
“By raising awareness, I feel like people are going to be more open,” Tam said. “We hope to let people know that it’s okay to get professional help.”