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SLO High School students tackle mental health issues 

While youth mental health continues to be a growing concern for adults, a group of local students decided to take it upon themselves the help raise awareness about the issue.

Members of SLO High School’s Associated Student Body held a week of activities and discussion on the topic beginning April 11 through April 15. Those activities included posting information about mental health, asking teachers to discuss the topic with their classes, and a mental wellness fair, which brought representatives from SLO County government and nonprofit agencies to campus to provide information and resources to students.

“The goal of this week is to start a conversation about mental health, creating a step toward a campus that no longer pushes mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury under the rug,” said Bella Stenvall, the school’s ASB president.

click to enlarge RAISING AWARENESS:  Student leaders at SLO High School are on a mission to educate their peers about mental health. - FILE PHOTO BY HENRY BRUINGTON
  • FILE PHOTO BY HENRY BRUINGTON
  • RAISING AWARENESS: Student leaders at SLO High School are on a mission to educate their peers about mental health.

When it comes to mental illness, adolescents and teens are particularly vulnerable. According to Campaign to Change Direction, a mental health awareness nonprofit, nearly one in every five people, or 42.5 million American adults, has a diagnosable mental health condition, and half of all lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age 14.

“I think that SLO County needs to be aware of the stigma surrounding schools, in order to start a real conversation about funding for more resources for our students,” Stenvall said.

She and the other student leaders came up with the idea during a retreat, after the group began discussing their own experiences with mental health issues and the stressors for students both on and off campus.

“We realized that if we were dealing with these things, so were other students,” Stenvall said. 

Getting help isn’t always easy. Stenvall said that her school had three counselors who serve the entire student body. While they do deal with mental health issues, Stenvall said they are tasked with helping students in academic areas as well. In addition, Stenvall said many students might be reticent to speak up if they are having problems and worry that others might judge them. She hoped the week would encourage those in need to come forward and get help.

“We wanted them to know they aren’t alone,” she said.

April 15 was also marked as “semicolon” day across the country. As awareness about mental health issues grows, the semicolon has become a national symbol for those struggling with mental health issues 

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to,” the website for the nonprofit Project Semicolon states. “You are the author and the sentence is your life.”

Fast fact

Serve SLO, a new student-community collaborative event is happening on Saturday, April 30, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Students in Greek life, club sports, student government, philanthropy organizations, and various other entities will be volunteering their time alongside permanent SLO residents to clean up city neighborhoods. 

Cal Poly’s ASI Student Government  spearheaded the event and expects more than 100 people to participate. ASI representatives said it believes a good way to ease the tension between student and resident neighbors is through sponsoring events such as this one. Event attendees will be meeting behind the Recreation Center at Cal Poly and then heading into the Alta Vista and Monterey Heights neighborhoods. A barbecue will follow the cleanup. 

To find out more information or to participate, call 756-5828. 

Staff writer Chris McGuinness wrote this week’s Strokes & Plugs. Send news tips and comments to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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