COLUMBUS (WCMH) — With May recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, young people are opening up about navigating the stressors of the pandemic.
“You’re just not alone. I feel like there’s a lot of people feeling the same thing as you,” Worthington Christian 8th grader Haley Huffman encourages.
For Huffman, that mindset is both a lesson learned and a motivating message for students navigating the topic of mental health.
“I feel like people are scared to actually reach out and express what you’re feeling because you’re afraid they may judge you for what’s going on,” says Huffman about the stigmas surrounding the subject.
Students at Worthington Christian say the unexpected transition to online learning was the most challenging part of the past year.
“Because I do better in person, like interacting with someone,” admits Huffman’s classmate Baden Wood.
Though separation from friends, and the uncertainty of COVID-19 triggered a new angst for they are their classmates.
“It felt as though it was going really, really slow, and just like we were in quarantine what felt like forever,” recalls fellow classmate Amani Mureithi.
“Not knowing what was next, I know that caused a lot of anxiety,” says School Counselor Nancy Secrest, who admits her role slowed down at first because students weren’t in school. “What I really try to do is build the relationship in the sane times, in the quiet times.”
When school re-opened, students began to grasp what they were feeling.
“Any pathway that I can give them to relieve the stress before it builds up into anxiety, into panic, and then starts to manifest itself as depression,” says Secrest of her role with the students.
But how comfortable were they talking about it with their peers?
“People came up and started talking. They were like, ‘Hey, can I talk to you for a second? Because I feel like I’m feeling this, this, and this.’ And then it reached a point where, ‘I’m feeling the exact same thing too. I understand. We’re going to get through this together.,'” Mureithi recalls of the return to school.
For many students, simply voicing their feelings provided a sense of comfort.
While Secrest would often walk-and-talk with students outdoors, they also developed their own ways to relieve that pressure.
“I do a lot of reading. And then I always play games with my mom, and we do movie nights as a family,” describes Wood.
“Listening to music sometimes helped me. And that would help me be able to write it down and really just understand what’s going on,” Mureithi adds.
As young people are encouraged to talk more about mental health, they say it’s about understanding their triggers and finding that relief; and finding their voice to break the stigmas of a sensitive subject.
“It’s better if you actually talk to somebody and find someone you trust and speak out what you’re feeling,” says Huffman.
Secrest says simple things like packing your lunch the night before school, looking over future assignments or even picking out what you’re going to wear before bed can provide a sense of calm and routine for young people and help alleviate some of that stress.