Amherst students organize mental health awareness committee

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Amherst High School students have set up a mental health awareness committee owing to the fact that it’s hard enough being a teenager with the pressures of family, friends and school, among other forms of stress.

Not only did they notice the problem but decided to find a solution to it.

Adding to the anxiety is the way the world’s been upended by the pandemic which is hitting many kids hard.

Rebekah Grande, a junior at Amherst said: “I saw that students were struggling with Zoom and just being teenagers in a pandemic.”

Last school year when many kids were learning from home, she claimed she found herself facing the same kinds of mental health issues that many of her peers also deal with and was made worse by uncomfortable feelings that came along with isolation during the pandemic.

“I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression and I understood where the student body was at the moment because I was also struggling myself,” Grande said. “So I wanted to do something that I knew would be helpful to others.”

She organized a mental health awareness committee. What started as just a few students, has now grown to more than 40.

“It’s hard to start the conversation and you want to be cognizant of how people feel and sometimes you don’t know what the right words are to say to someone who’s struggling,” said senior Hannah Gabelnick.

They’ve hosted several mental health awareness weeks, coffee talks, a guide with resources of where to turn for help and even a virtual lounge for students’ self-care.

Social workers at the school say they’ve seen the effects the pandemic has had on many kids.

“There’s definitely been an increase in family stress, an increase in the inability to just cope with situations, to be able to manage the stress, to deal with things that are different or uncomfortable or awkward,” said Daniela Wolfe, a social worker at the school.

The school has put an emphasis on trusted relationships kids have with their teachers and counseling staff, also offering connections to help outside the school walls. And the efforts of the mental health committee, the students themselves, have created an open dialogue.

Amherst’s Mental Health awareness club has also raised money for Crisis Services, and they plan to have more events and activities later this year.

Crisis Services Community Relations Director Olivia Retallack says the Amherst group really shows the benefit of having a peer-led and peer-run effort.

“We certainly want to see students reaching out to their trusted adults, and so we want to make sure that we highlight those individuals within a school district,” said Retallack. “But the student body over at Amherst is the perfect example of students saying we’ve got to cut down barriers, we’ve got to talk about these things.”

Retallack hopes Amherst can serve as a model for other school districts across Western New York.

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