Demystifying Mental Health at BT High School’s Mental Health Awareness Week

The BT High School community devoted a week to understanding what mental illness is, what it looks like, and the available resources and treatments for those in crisis.
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!”

Mental Health Yom Iyyun (Day of Learning) speakers and topics included:
  • Ms. Nanette Herlands, R.N., Beth Tfiloh Middle & High School nurse: Mental Health Challenges in The School Setting; Lessons Learned as a School Nurse/ Understanding Eating Disorders –The Journey and Recovery 
  • Mr. Shmuel Fischler, LCSW-C, CBT Baltimore – Revealing Myths and Facts about OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)
  • Mr. Joel Monroe, BT High School History Department Chair: How to Reduce Stress
  • Morah Shira Meister, BT Middle School Judaics Teacher: “Because I Said So”: Committing to Doing Great Things
  • Samuel Greenberg, Psy.D, licensed clinical psychologist, CPE Clinic, LLC: Myths and Truths about Technology and Wellness: Online All the Time
  • Rabbi Mordechai Soskil, BT High School Director of Judaic Studies: How Halacha Understands Mental Illness – From the Classical Period until Today
  • Dr. Fran Appler, psychologist: Life is Stressful but You Don't have to be Distressed
  • Michael Labellarte, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist, CPE Clinic, LLC – What’s in That Bottle? Explaining Commonly Prescribed Medications 
  • Ms. Drew Fidler, LCSW-C, Director of Community Outreach and Education, Baltimore Child Abuse Center: Your Brain on Trauma: How Abuse and Neglect Impact Mental Health
  • Mr. Avi Burstein, LCPC, Towson Therapy Collaborative: Mental Health and Wellness in the LGBTQ Community/Addiction in Adolescents 
  • Mr. Jason Dougherty, former Beth Tfiloh Creative Arts Director: Calming Stress with Mindfulness
  • Mrs. Donna Kane, M.A., Grief Specialist at Jewish Community Services: Grief and Loss
  • Mrs. Halaine Steinberg, BT High School Director of College Guidance and MD SPCA volunteer: How Pets Reduce Stress 
  • Ms. Lisa Warren, BT High School Modern Language Department Chair and yoga instructor: Managing Your Life with Yoga
  • Mrs. Ayelet Steiner, BT High School Hebrew Language Teacher: Resilience
  • Mr. Dani Steiner, BT High School Hebrew Language Teacher and Israel Shaliach: How the IDF Addresses Mental Health Issues in the Army
  • Coach Stacy Fuld, BT Athletic Director and Coach Eli Creeger, BT High School Asst. Director of Student Life/Athletic Dept. Asst. and Basketball Coach: The Relationship Between Fitness and Stress
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