Every other Thursday at Old Rochester Regional High School, a certain amount of time at the beginning of the day is reserved for an advisory period. These times allow for homeroom groups to address ongoing aspects and obstacles of teenage life that affect any number of students. Under the guidance of their homeroom teacher and an additional staff member, advisories discuss topics ranging from test preparation to college admissions, depending on their grade.
One issue that has become more open to discussion in the recent years is mental health and illness, something that can affect individuals of all ages.
A current Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why,” has particularly caused a surge in this conversation as the show revolves around a girl’s suicide, the factors that led up to it, and the after-effects her death had on her community.
The show has been praised for highlighting the struggles of depression and causing many to talk about mental health, but it has also been criticized as its story and images can be triggering for those suffering in similar situations. In the naturally stressful environment school can become, it is important to talk about these issues.
The night before advisory, Principal Michael Devoll sent out a school-wide email to students with a document listing various sources where individuals can seek help and a link to an article that chronicled one school’s response to the themes presented in the television show. This message acted as both a way to help any struggling students and to start a conversation amongst the student body.
During advisory the next day, this course of action was expanded as each homeroom began the session by playing a version of “Jeopardy” that focused on the different supportive resources offered to them at school. The method engaged students as they were tasked with naming certain staff members, including the school nurse (Nurse Corazzini), social worker (Mrs. Dowdall), and psychologist (Mr. Allessi). In addition to identifying students’ support systems, the game also brought up mental illness rates and the fact that they are curable and not something to be ashamed of.
This awareness campaign does not just stop at the student level. Parents of junior high and high school students recently received a correspondence from Principals Devoll and Kevin Brogioli that informed guardians of the themes in “13 Reasons Why” and safe ways to approach discussing the series with their family.
Some of these suggestions were: “What are three situations from the series when young people acted in heroic or empathetic ways? If you were Hannah (the girl who committed suicide), what words or actions might have helped you survive?” The email also contained a link to the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services to inform about warning signs of suicide.
The staff at the high school is also receiving an opportunity to become more familiar in dealing with mental health and mental illnesses. A workshop titled QPR Suicide Prevention Training is being offered in the oncoming weeks to the staff with the goal of instructing individuals on how to recognize someone at risk of suicide. With this lesson, the support system available to those at ORRHS will only become stronger.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, reach out and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) or any other group aimed at helping those in need.
By Jo Caynon