This series features current students living through the youth mental health crisis. These are their perspectives on school mental health as high school students in the U.S.
Mikey Ezeani (he/him) and Seth Davis (he/him) are students at SUNY New Paltz in New York. Mikey holds many leadership positions on and off campus - he is a Resident Assistant, Study Group leader, Hall Government Liaison, the President of MAPS, and Partner of the "Let's Get Into It" podcast with Seth. Seth also holds a number of leadership positions, serving as an Oasis Haven Peer Crisis Counselor, Student Resilience Advocate, and a mental health content creator in addition to the podcast.
Neolth: Why is mental health important to you?
Mikey: "Mental health is important to me because it changed the way I handled the experiences that I’d face in my life. For the most part growing up, I had all the emotions that didn’t have a label on them and when I faced any type of adversity, a cloud would settle over my head and I had no idea why. After taking time to work on my self-awareness and discovering myself I had started to feel like I was in control of life and my future. I am grateful for the space and experiences I was able to gain in college to do so but a lot of this work was internal and consistent self-improvement."
Seth: "As a survivor of PTSD and racial trauma, I realized how important mental health is and how little is being done about it. During my teenage years I saw the mental health stigma in men and appreciated how powerful vulnerability and healing what you have gone through is. Also helping people through what they have gone through."
Neolth: What was your personal experience with mental health as a high school student? Feel free to include your own experiences or observations of peers.
Mikey: "My mental health experience through high school consisted of unknowingness. I knew I’d feel a certain way during a certain period and acknowledge that feeling, but not where it came from. My peers were the same way. If they had more days where they felt good more than bad, they were popular and if a person was often in a mood that people found unsuitable… they were outcasts. I started taking note and acknowledging the sources of feelings towards the latter two years of high school where most of my feeling stemmed from external validation because of I harbored many insecurities about my weight, how I dressed, and even talked but I eased into taking control over the negativity in my life through working hard towards self-improvement."
Seth: "Mental health for me in high school was a lot of feelings of unworthiness, depression and anxiety which were mostly just the outward projection of my suppressed PTSD. I never told anyone how I was doing, mostly because I didn’t understand it and was ashamed of even feeling the way I did. I felt like nobody really knew who I was and I had a hard time fitting in due to growing up in a 99% white town on top of my deep-rooted trauma. It wasn’t until senior year of high school that I started to embrace anything about myself, which started off at the simplest level of embracing curly hair and no longer trying to comb out the curls."
Neolth: Did your high school offer mental health resources? What is/would be helpful vs unhelpful for them to offer?
Mikey: "Yes, but they were more tailored for the special needs kids. For a common student there was a school psychologist. But I only found out my junior or senior year of high school and they weren’t even taken seriously. I remember some kids being pretty messed up, but they never had guidance or help to sort it out, just disciplinary action."
Seth: "They definitely did but at the same time I didn’t know about them and I also didn’t know I even needed them. I talked to a school counselor once, and it was only because I wasn’t doing my work anymore due to my depression, but I didn’t know that was why I wasn’t doing it. I thought I was just lazy. It would have helped a lot if they educated students about how mental health difficulties can show up and be projected outwardly. As well as if they promoted mental health in general. For example, telling students where to go if they needed somebody to talk to, that it’s okay to talk about mental health, and that there are people and resources for them to go to."
Neolth: How might you change the school system to better support young people’s mental health?
Mikey: "I advocate for school policy that provides students with biweekly counseling services through a school counseling center and more specialized and intense sessions for students with different needs. I feel like mental health is neglected when people are at their youngest. I think knowing what the feelings that we have are is very important towards discovering the need for treatment for something that isn’t right. Personal Mental Health curriculum in science classes may be important towards improving a student's ability to deal with their issues. Also providing necessary resources for less fortunate students like shelter, food, and space."
Seth: "Before I changed my mind about being a school counselor to now aspiring to be a mental health counselor, I had the idea of promoting mental health on the walls of the school. Even a small, taped paper of a positive affirmation could go a long way for some kids. It must start well before this. It all comes down to education. We must educate our youth about different emotions, how they are okay to feel, and how to feel them. Promote real self-care, promote therapy, promote mental health as being something that we don’t deserve to feel shameful about. There should be a mental health class, not one that is not an option that you can randomly take in your senior year of high school, but one that is required and consistently taken to further educate students about expressing themselves emotionally and understanding how they feel and destigmatizing mental health."
Neolth: Tell us about your podcast, Let’s Get Into It, and the other ways you’re involved in mental health advocacy!
Seth : "I am part of Oasis Haven a student volunteering crisis hotline available for students at SUNY New Paltz where I take calls, walk ins, and support students with crises ranging from anxiety to suicide and homicide to sexual assault. I also run my own mental health page as a project of my own where I attempt to de-stigmatize mental health by sharing my own experiences and empowering and supporting students with their own struggles (Therapeutic_Mentality). I am a part of the Student Resilience Advocates on campus which is a mental health organization where we run mental health related events on campus and support students through social media. I am part of the Active Minds club at SUNY New Paltz, which also does things like the Student Resilience Advocates. Lastly, Mikey and I run our own podcast that we post on Spotify to support, empower, and give space for not only ourselves to share our experiences but also others to feel heard in theirs."
Mikey: "Seth and I are using our podcast as a personal journal and a way to connect with the people by sharing our thoughts on our experiences and ideas to create a space for community and growth."
Neolth: Finally, what is your current favorite way to practice self-care?
Seth: "I regularly attend trauma therapy for my PTSD/trauma from my childhood, I journal regularly to let go of emotions, I also meditate when I need to. I do not do it as much anymore as a consistent practice of self-care, but it is in my toolbox of ways to care for myself."
Mikey: "My favorite method of self-care is exploring my creative side through music and journaling, and taking time to sit down and reflect on my accomplishments. I feel the things I do are so routine. However as I’d sit down and look back I’d realize myself and appreciate my goals and the future I’m working towards. I also am big on R&R with some of my favorite people."
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