The CDC estimates that 50% of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. What does mental illness look like? What are the signs that someone is suffering from depression? How can we reduce our stress levels for a more balanced life?
The BT High School community explored questions like these throughout Mental Health Awareness Week, coordinated by Mrs. Rochelle Sullivan, BT High School Counselor and Mrs. Rachel Dratch, Director of Student Life and Israel Guidance.Throughout the week, a broad range of speakers spanning a variety of professional backgrounds and areas of expertise provided students with accurate and clear information about mental health, medications, diagnoses, treatments and practical advice.
“Today's culture demands that we pay careful attention to the area of mental health so that we can support our students in every aspect of their lives,” said BT Director of Education Dr. Zipora Schorr, emphasizing the importance of this week-long program.Experts Explain Mental Health
The week’s featured speaker was Victor Schwartz, M.D.
, Chief Medical Officer of the Jed Foundation
, a nonprofit that addresses emotional health and suicide prevention for teens and young adults. Dr. Schwartz spoke to students about the warning signs and intervention strategies used to prevent crisis. He addressed teachers as gatekeepers, asking them to change how they think about mental health and to be on the lookout for changes in students’ behaviors and know where to turn to support students in crisis. Finally, he gave parents of seniors a broad overview of adolescent mental illness and wellness, and what they experience as they make the transition from adolescence to young adulthood.
Several grades had individual presentations with speakers like recording artist and entrepreneur Mr. Clarence “KD” McNair, who spoke to juniors about his struggles with anxiety and panic disorder. Junior girls heard a sexual assault survivor’s story, while freshmen explored the stigma of mental illness.
All students participated in a Mental Health Yom Iyyun, with a variety of sessions addressing topics ranging from stress management techniques, coping with grief, and the impact of trauma on mental health, to eating disorders, mental health in the LGBTQ community, and how Halacha (Jewish law) understands mental illness. (See complete list of speakers and their topics below.)
The week wrapped up with a presentation for seniors by former BT High School interim principal Mrs. Debbie Rapoport about mood, behavior and the brain. At the weekly Friday assembly, Rabbinical Council of America Executive Vice President Rabbi Mark Dratch discussed the kinds of mental health-related issues he encounters in his pastoral role, and BT High School AP Psychology teacher Dr. Hudi Schorr explained the everyday factors that can impact overall mental health. Creating a Safe Space
“I hope that this program generates conversations about mental health and wellness amongst our faculty, students, parents and the community at large,” remarked Mrs. Sullivan. Clearly, the program had an impact on the students, who expressed their appreciation for this life-saving experience.
“I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about mental illness and mental health,” commented one student. Said another, “This week helped me learn more about mental illness and realize it is not so rare and anyone can have it.”
But perhaps the most valuable thing the students gained from Mental Health Awareness Week was “a school-sanctioned safe space to talk about topics that many of them struggle with,” said Mrs. Sullivan.
And they noticed. Said one student, “We need community and I am glad I am part of this one!”