East Lansing High School clubs and administration have been working to provide students with mental health resources throughout the school year. Weekly Mood Meters and ‘Wellness Wednesdays’ have been provided by ELHS administration since the start of online learning as a way to reach out to possibly struggling students, and several ELHS clubs have launched resources for students during the pandemic.
A school social worker, Heather Findley, provides immediate and crisis-associated help to students, especially those at risk for suicide or self-harm. She also holds “Wellness Wednesdays” via Zoom every Wednesday, where students can explore self-care activities like yoga. According to Findley, these programs are “crucial to de-stigmatization and improved awareness.”
“The dedication to serving all our students is necessary and exciting, and it feels the district is extremely motivated to reach everyone.” Findley said.
Matt Morales, an associate principal who coordinates with Ms. Findley about students’ mental health, develops new mental health programming through community and district connections for ELHS.
“During the pandemic,” Findley and Morales wrote in an email, “greater attention is needed to address unique challenges of isolation, students missing out on milestones, and increased risk of financial instability, housing instability, and grief and loss.”
Most ELHS students are familiar with the Mood Meter, a Google form provided by administration, that teachers give students the chance to fill out once a week. The form includes questions like “how are you feeling?,” and emoji representatives of emotions, such as stressed, calm, and hopeless, which students choose between as a reflection of their mood.
62 percent of respondents to a survey posted on the Portrait Instagram on March 4 said they were “not always honest” when filling out their emotions in Mood Meters. Some middle schoolers, who also fill out mood meters, feel the same resistance. One of these students is Maggie Swords (8).
“They might follow up,” Swords said. “and that makes me uncomfortable.”
Caleb Pluta (11) has been reached out to in the past by his speech therapist after filling out a mood meter. In general, he says, he prefers talking to people he knows better about mental health.
“I’m just more comfortable with reaching out to friends and family,” Pluta said. It’s nothing against the school. I just feel much more safe that way.”
Despite the efforts of the school and clubs, data from the Portrait poll indicates that 51% of ELHS students still feel mental health support was “inadequate”.
Findley hosts the Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students (TRAILS) program, which is a seven-week course that aims to help students better deal with the challenges of the pandemic. TRAILS utilizes mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which, according to the American Psychological Association, aims to change the way people think about and cope with psychological problems, in order to break out of destructive habits.
“I am enjoying connecting with all different students and believe systemic and programmatic change is happening and remains possible for future generations.” Findley said.
Despite advances, only 50% of students surveyed in the Portrait poll said they had someone at the school they felt they could contact for emotional support, and some feel that the school isn’t doing enough, and are overwhelmed with the new schedule, especially returning to in-person school, including Luke Vitale (11).
“Give us more breaks,” Vitale said. “I know it’s school but it seems like a lot fast.”
In addition to school-provided resources, the Students for Mental Health Club has been sending thank-you notes to teachers and care packages to students, as well as promoting good mental health habits through their Instagram.
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Megan Mullaney (11) joined the club this year to be a force for good in the school. She saw an increase in depression and anxiety, especially during the pandemic, and wanted to help take action in her own community.
“Helping our student body means providing for needs that are not being met,” Mullaney said.
According to Mullaney, the club’s biggest project this year has been the Buddy System, They matched students who signed up with each other based on shared interests and struggles. The students would be introduced and could chat with each other.
“This year a lot of students needed a friend or just more social interaction, so as a club, we decided we were going to supply that,” Mullaney said.
The Students for Mental Health Club isn’t the only student-led group taking charge of mental health this year. Mori Rothhorn (11) decided to help start a brand-new club this year, Students for Body Image Support (SBIS), based on her own experiences.
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“I think at the beginning of quarantine I actually weirdly enjoyed myself because finally, I could rest, you know,” Rothhorn said. “but then my bubble like kind of burst”
She found that, over quarantine, there was nothing to do except “worry and obsess” about food and her body.
“On social media,” Rothhorn said, “it was all like, ‘are you going to glow up, are you going to like to work out in quarantine?’ or ‘are you going to get fat?’ and those were the only two options.”
She hopes her club can help target the specific mental health issues of eating and body disorders and body image.