Summit Academy principals share their ideas
Mental health, like any other medical condition, requires care and attention. However, unlike most other medical conditions, mental health carries stigma and misunderstanding, which can lead to the neglect of conditions and pain prevalent among many. Consider the numbers …
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in 2020:
- 1 in 5 U.S adults reported that the pandemic had a significant negative impact on their mental health.
- One in six adolescents (between the ages of 12 and 17) experienced a major depressive episode.
- 1 in 15 U.S. adults experienced both a substance use disorder and mental illness.
- 12+ million adults had serious thoughts of suicide.
“Folks have been through tremendous amounts of stress, personally and professionally, over the last two years, especially personally,” says Summit Academy Transition High School – Cincinnati Principal Steve Geresy.
Mental Health Awareness Month calls on each of us to understand and address mental illness. Geresy and his team at Cincinnati, along with fellow Summit Academy Schools principals, compiled a list of their top mental health care tips for students, families and staff.
- Start Journaling
“My school staff and I highly encourage journaling. It’s a great way to keep track of your triggers and the emotions that manifest from them. It gives you a timeline to see what may be the catalyst,” Geresy says. Geresy describes how many of the schools’ students in foster care have used journaling to navigate through traumatic episodes and identify triggers such as a date they were placed in foster care, a season during which a parent died, or late August, when they had to go to a new school.
“Writing things down can help you make sense of things that your brain can’t,” explains Geresy.
“One of the best things that you can do for your mental health is exercise regularly. Whether that be jogging, yoga, martial arts, playing tennis or another physical activity,” says Summit Academy Community School – Lorain Principal Keegan Schoen. ‘Find something that clears your mind and feels more like a fun hobby than a chore.”
Schoen adds that establishing an enjoyable exercise routine is likely to have staying power as will the mental health benefits that accompany it.
- Practice Art
”One of the ways we provide mental health support to students is to enable them to use art as a resource, to stimulate students’ creative energy and release from distractions as they focus on the detail of the art,” describes Summit Academy Secondary School – Akron Principal Ralph Grant.
In addition to creating artwork for themselves, Grant’s students have also fashioned bracelets and cards for chronically ill students. “It gives them a sense of satisfaction as they are helping others,” he says.
Support someone who is struggling by being there for them, advises Schoen.
“Empathize. Make them feel loved and appreciated,” Schoen says. “The closer you are to this person, the easier it will be for you to know what they need.”
Schoen adds that no matter how strong most people want to be, everyone needs help sometimes.
“So be that person who treats others how you would want to be treated at all times,” he says.
- Tap resources
Apps like Clear Fear, Mindshift and Calm can help through bouts of anxiety, says Geresy. His staff also recommends the Crisis Text Line. People can text 741741 in a time of crisis to connect with a live, trained crisis counselor 24/7.
In addition, NAMI provides several resources at its website, https://nami.org/Home, says Grant. In particular, NAMI offers a free HelpLine, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. ET: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email@example.com.
- Read fiction
Pick up a good fiction book, advises Summit Academy Akron Elementary School Principal Dawn Presley.
“Sometimes escaping in a good book is just what you need to take your mind off of what is bothering you. It can also give you time to decompress from stressful situations so that you can take a fresh look at what was bothering you,” Presley says.
Be sure to choose books uplifting in nature, Presley suggests, pointing out that a book’s content can also have an effect on mood.
- Buck the stigma of mental illness
“Be the leader who breaks this stigma. The more others hear that they are not alone and that many of us struggle with mental health, the easier it is for them to open up,” Schoen says.
Schoen emphasizes that being strong is not about keeping to oneself, but about expressing the need for help. “The more people who realize that, the more we can all move forward as a cohesive group that works together to benefit everyone’s mental health,” he says.