Mental health awareness on the rise at MVRHS

— Madeleine Bengtsson

Mental health awareness at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) is at an all-time high among students and teachers as social isolation continues. Mental health outreach during remote learning was met with many obstacles, but with the recent transition to the hybrid model this past Monday, teachers and administrators hope that they will now be able to better support students both in the classroom and at home.

School adjustment counselor Matt Malowski helps students navigate the social and emotional challenges of high school. He said, “[The pandemic] has caused people to isolate, and as human beings we are not designed to be isolated. People who have anxiety, depression, or some form of mental illness are not having the connections or access to the resources they would typically have., so their issues are exacerbated.”

Concern among school counselors has grown significantly as students have reached out less and less, and an upward trend of adult referrals suggests that students are in more need than ever. In response to this, teachers from various departments joined together to further educate themselves about mental health by participating in a Mental Health First Aid workshop.

Project Vine department chair and English teacher Danielle Charbonneau participated in this workshop and said, “It wasn’t all about how to handle people who are noticeably in crisis, but in large part, how do you serve as a trusted positive adult in someone’s life to prevent that crisis from getting there in the first place?”

Ms. Charbonneau and Mr. Malowksi hope to extend this training to more teachers and eventually make it available to the students at MVRHS.

School adjustment counselor Amy Lilavois discussed the decline of student’s mental health at MVRHS due to isolation. She said, “The worrisome thing for me is that for kids who are struggling with being healthy on an emotional level right now, the longer that they go without connecting with other people, the deeper that hole is going to get.”

Amy and Matt’s goal this fall was to support the students as they navigated the realm of remote instruction. However, with MVRHS starting its first week of hybrid learning they hope having students in the building will remove some of the obstacles that online learning presents such as lack of student engagement and motivation.

Matt emphasized  the value of returning to school., “Even though you may not want to come to school because you have to wear a mask, or sit in the cafeteria, come to school!” he said. “The benefits are going to outweigh all those negatives. Students need to encourage each other to get back into the building as a community and step out of their comfort zones. Young people are so much more influential with each other than we are as adults.”

As more teachers participate in the Mental Health First Aid workshop, this opportunity will become available to students. Some students have already expressed interest in the topic, such as Penelope Long who believes the first step in mental health outreach is informing yourself on the topic. “Mental health is something we should all be well educated about so we can help peers, students, players, and anyone that is having a hard time. Having a good support system in your life is essential, especially with online learning and growing up in a pandemic.”

Penelope also highlighted the importance of student interaction,“I think being able to see the high school come together as a community all in one place, and see each other in real life can really boost our mental health.”