NAMI Walks Your Way
CHHS Faculty and Students Take Steps to Break the Stigma over Mental Health Conditions
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and students and faculty at Croton-Harmon High School have been measuring their support for the cause in miles this week as hundreds participate in the annual National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) walk-a-thon. In absence of one large event this year, CHHS organizers got creative and held a week-long event on the CHHS track with someone walking at all times during school hours for the entire week.
Croton-Harmon’s relationship with NAMI goes back several years and has only grown in significance as the attention on teen mental health has received more attention. Ms. Tracy, the district's health education curriculum coordinator and CHHS P.A.S.S. teacher, has coordinated NAMI programs in the high school with representatives meeting with students to discuss the stigma around mental health and sharing their Ending The Silence presentation. The goal is to help students learn about the warning signs of mental health conditions and steps to take if they or a loved one is showing symptoms of a mental health condition.
CHHS students have also shown great dedication to the NAMI partnership and an ongoing effort to bring mental health challenges into the mainstream discussion. CHHS junior Jamie Pollak worked with Ms. Tracy to help organize the walk-a-thon, including creating the schedule to have a constant presence of walkers on the track, decorating the building and publicizing the event on social media. Jamie’s involvement with NAMI also includes being a speaker at a NAMI Westchester Parenting seminar “to help parents better understand the mental struggles their children go through.” She is now working with NAMI to get the organization more involved in various initiatives at CHHS.
Referencing her experience in contributing to this event, Jamie said: “I learned the true significance of mental health struggles, and there were many surprising statistics to emphasize the importance of this issue. I also learned how important it is to stay organized when planning a week-long event, and to properly communicate with teachers and peers.”
“According to NAMI, 17 percent of youth experience a mental health disorder, as do one in five adults. So, statistically, many of our students are faced with a mental health challenge of their own or in their family,” said Ms. Tracy. “We want to help students feel more comfortable discussing their feelings and experiences, and provide them with resources, whether that’s here in our school or beyond.”
Tessa Barbau, Matthea Schor and Jennifer Smith, who were walking during one of their classes, took a break to share some of their thoughts about mental health, including the district's attention to this serious issue and the impact the COVID has had on them.
Tessa said that she appreciates that discussions about mental health are becoming more accepted among her peers but does still believe that there is a stigma. “I am so glad that our district offers so many resources and, personally, if I’m ever having trouble I know exactly who I can go to. But I still think we have work to do to make everyone feel more comfortable talking about mental health issues.”
Matthea, who is a volunteer for the Croton-on-Hudson Volunteer Ambulance Corps, pointed to the mental health challenges that COVID has created, as “someone who has seen how real this is, up close and personal.”
“The pandemic really forced us to wake up and see the world,” said Matthea. “But some of our classmates had a different take on how to act and that’s created challenges in friend groups. I think a lot of us are still figuring that out.”
Jennifer agreed: “COVID really forced us to grow up and to think about the impact of our decisions and actions on others. Sometimes that could feel real
Students also spoke highly of teachers and other faculty who they say have found ways to check in on students and facilitate discussions about topics that can be divisive. The district has resources in all buildings for students and families. Please don’t hesitate to contact the school administration or counselors with any questions.