Mental and emotional health is becoming less taboo as society sees it increasingly as an issue of overall wellness vital to our health and functionality. However, this stance has been worked towards through the people who advocate for it as such; creating spaces in which talking openly and honestly about mental health is a positive experience of catharsis and took for self improvement.
There is a great sense of community here at YIS and people are generally very supportive of one another, but, poor mental health, however, is not often acknowledged despite the obvious need for it. Our competitive, high stress, high pressure environments mean that we fail to prioritize ourselves sometimes and there does not seem to be any acknowledgement of the fact that sometimes things so wrong, but that’s okay because there are tools to help fix the situation. I know this from personally experiencing a degree of stress that was very overwhelming and made me feel hopeless and negatively about myself; an instance that I’ve found rings true with many of my peers. Although our school understands that this kind of stress is a part of our lives, the acknowledgement of, or conversation surrounding it always seems to be about how our academics, rather than us as individuals, might be suffering as a result. This type of feedback made me feel like I couldn’t reach out, communicate why I my academic results were suffering, or have a conversation about adjustments I might have benefited from.
When I got well, I was very concerned about maintaining my own well being, but also more aware and worried for others who might be feeling the same way; others who might not have the tools to be resilient or understand that a persistence through the bad times is always rewarded by a light at the end of the tunnel. So, a friend and I took matters into our own hands and started a service group dedicated to creating an accessible space and group of people within the school concerned about the wellbeing of others- a mental and emotional health club. Our goals were (and still are) to create a safe place that offers support and resources; raise awareness on self care and how to to help others; and reduce the ever-present stigma and shame surrounding mental illness by helping others learn more about it in order to create a happier and healthier student body equipped with yet another set of resources that will benefit them throughout life.

     We were able to recruit members very quickly, and started working towards those goals almost immediately post-establishment. Initially, we worked towards increase our presence in the school. We went about putting ourselves out there by advertising for a logo contest: asking people to get creative and take time for art in a way that helped us and reminded people that there was a club devoted to a concern for their well being. To follow along the last of those lines, we also engaged in a bake sale with logo stickers on the goods, and used the money we earned to set out baby’s breath flowers (as depicted in our logo) in all of the high school tutor rooms.
In elevating our activities to look more at self care, we still were trying to leave reminders that there is a group of people devoted to supporting, helping, and caring for others on a personal level. We we did a rock painting activity for people leaving at the end of the year as a symbol of how they had left a mark on YIS- showing that they influenced our community and were loved and important to the people they had bonded with. This combined helping people feel important and loved as well as allowing them to engage in an activity that took their mind off things for a bit. Since there was so much positive feedback, we set up a rock decorating stand at our booth for people to have fun with a crafty activity and take a slightly more quiet moment for themselves. You can see many of these rocks around school, and to have them connected to the mental and emotional health club really sends a message about how important people should be to one another.
During the 2018 school year, we were able to (in an unfortunate way) show our support for others. A student at another school passed away in a tragic road accident, so we brought the community together to make 1,000 paper cranes for the school who collectively suffered this loss. The cranes were to show our condolences and put forth a symbolic understanding of how grief is a process that has many stages to work through, but each step (however small) adds to something quite impressive- the fact that somebody worked through and stayed strong through loss. This activity was especially important for me as it helped people in the community become more aware about how grief and healing was an ongoing, long, and complex process. It was an activity that increased an awareness/had an advocacy aspect, but also was an activity that helped people take time for the catharsis of crafting and (because of the tone of what was happening) helped people be more introspective about their self and their approaches to things like mourning.
     One of the most significant things we did for advocacy was a themed edition of the school magazine. As the collator, head editor, and recruiter this was quite an effort, but I think having content including pieces about struggle and strength people could engage with as well as sections reminding people of available resources was important and well worth any stress I may have experienced myself.  

     This year we are sustaining these types of meaningful actions that work towards creating a positive and open attitude to mental health with activities in similar strains. We use the money we make from donations and bake sales to start activities and fund one-off’s so everybody can feel the love. We have made stable to commitments to self care initiatives such as a “breakfast club” on Tuesday mornings (30m before school devoted simply to preparing yourself for the day both mentally and physically) and a meditation/mindfulness session every Wednesday at breaktime. However, we are trying to make new sorts of progress by gathering helpful resources so they’re more accessible to people through a careful curation of brochures for how to help people you may be worried about and how to care for yourself when feeling stressed or unwell. We have had many discussions about how to engage with mental illness in a way that doesn’t stereotype or enable self diagnosis and we hope to do this by engaging with it on a serious, less objective, and more than surface level: planning to engage with the grade 9 INS classes who do units that may be related to mental health.
I hope this club allows us to sustain these positive changes that help our students learn to prioritise themselves and do more advocacy work to transform the attitude towards mental health in our community. I love the safe space our group creates for people who struggle with mental and emotional wellness and it would give me such a feeling of inspiration and hope to see it expand and create a culture that allows people to get the help they need.