CANANDAIGUA, NY — It’s OK to ask for help.
Canandaigua Academy junior Caroline Healy, who has anxiety, did, by reaching out to counselors earlier in the year when the pandemic made her anxiety worsen. And they were helpful, Caroline said, and she is thankful they, as well as teachers, were able to help her with schoolwork and point her toward resources available to her.
“I’m so much better now,” Caroline said.
May is Metal Health Awareness Month. With the COVID-19 pandemic, youth mental health concerns have been on the rise nationally – to the degree that the surgeon general has urged a call to action to address youth mental health concerns.
Caroline and others in the Canandaigua schools and community are stepping in – quite literally. She and many others in the school community have been involved in the planning and publicizing of a mental health walk from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Sunday at the Canandaigua Academy track, the culmination of Kindness Week in Canandaigua schools.
The event is part of a mission to stop the stigma surrounding mental health, according to Leanne Ducharme, lead school counselor for grades K-12.
Proceeds benefit the Family Counseling Service of the Finger Lakes, which is an agency that provides professional counseling and support services to individuals, children and families.
“Our students have been faced with many challenges over the last three years with the pandemic and our shifts in education from virtual to hybrid and back to in-person,” Ducharme said in an email. “They have been resilient in many ways throughout these changes, but it has not been easy and most of our students have had to learn to reconnect socially.”
Some common mental health challenges include loneliness, anxiety and depression.
Lessons on social emotional learning aim to teach primary and elementary students the skills and aptitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, feel and show empathy, and achieve personal goals.
At the middle school, classroom guidance lessons on the topic of mental health are provided through the seventh-grade health class as well as through counseling lessons.
At the high school level, just this year a Teen Mental Health First Aid training program was introduced as part of the health curriculum.
“Our current 10th-grade students were the first to receive this training and we plan to continue it next year with the goal of eventually all students that graduate from CA having received it,” Ducharme said.
Also, schools participate in the Sources of Strength program, which is a youth suicide prevention project. Its mission is to prevent suicide by increasing help-seeking behaviors and promoting connections between peers and caring adults. Peer leaders enhance protective factors associated with reducing suicide, Ducharme said.
“Our goal is to bring an awareness to the importance of caring for every child’s mental health,” Ducharme said. “Positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development.”
As for the rain-or-shine walk, people do not need to attend the entire time, Ducharme said. In addition to food trucks and music, local mental health agencies will have tables set up to provide information. Gift baskets have been donated from local businesses for a silent auction.
“We encourage people to come for an hour and walk in the effort to raise awareness,” Ducharme said.
Building awareness will help others, Caroline said.
There doesn’t have to be a stigma toward asking for help. And she is encouraged to learn that many in the school community are already committing to walking on Sunday.
“If people know there are resources and help out there, they don’t have to be embarrassed about it,” Caroline said. “It’s OK to ask for help.”
To register for the walk, visit https://bit.ly/CAMentalHealthWalk. Here is a link to learn more about the Teen Mental Health First Aid training program: https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/population-focused-modules/teens/. For more information about the Sources of Strength program, visit https://sourcesofstrength.org/.