Two students from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School have organized a mental health week for their school, aiming to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental illness. The mental health week is running Jan. 9-13.
Katherine Vangaever, a senior, and Asia Perez, a junior, organized the campaign as part of a leadership class they're taking. But for these students, the reason to run the campaign is much deeper than a school assignment.
"For us, we both had different experiences," Perez said. "But for me personally, it was personal experiences, it was family and friends."
Responses from the students at the school have been relatively positive, Perez said.
"We have had multiple students who have reached out to ask if they could participate," she said. "There have also been kids who have had emotional responses. They've cried; they've said it’s really opened their eyes."
Perez believes there is a stigma that surrounds mental illness and that it is not given the attention it deserves.
"Mental health is important, especially around teens and youth," she said. "It affects millions of people and we don't give students the tools for how they can deal with it." She would rather have students talk about these issues to create positive experiences rather than avoiding the subject, creating negative ideas. Creating these positive experiences will allow youth and teens to grow up thinking positively about mental health, she said.
The two students have been documenting their project through their school's instagram account, @dailybarons.
Vangaever and Perez have been highlighting students from their school holding positive and encouraging messages, such as "Just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean it isn't so" and "Stand up to stigma, it's time to talk about mental health." The students also have displayed photos around the school with messages such as "It's okay to ask for help" and "I am more than a mental illness."
Other events for the mental health week include a workshop in which students can gather to discuss mental wellness, ways to deal with stress and how mental health has personally affected students and those around them.
There will also be relaxation games and art activities, a mental health panel featuring a representative from the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) of Montgomery County and a local therapist talking about their experiences with mental health.
The awareness week will conclude on Friday with a Happy Day, when students can participate in a full day of activities that promote releasing stress in healthy ways.