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Mini-Summit promotes wellness among Point Boro students

According to recent statistics released by the National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI], 20 percent of youth ages 13-18 live with a serious mental condition;Yoga at the Wellness Summit eleven percent of youth have a mood disorder; 10 percent have a behavior or conduct disorder and eight percent have an anxiety disorder. Though all are treatable, without treatment, these conditions can manifest in myriad negative ways – all of which can have potentially devastating consequences. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness can often prevent people from seeking the help they need causing many to suffer in silence.

“From school shootings and violence to suicides and substance abuse, there is ample evidence of the danger posed by ignoring and/or minimizing mental health issues,” said Superintendent of Point Pleasant Borough Schools Vincent S. Smith. “Though the Point Pleasant Borough School District has historically taken a proactive approach to the interdisciplinary integration of mental health education in district schools, recent years have seen increased efforts – especially at the high school level - aimed at destigmatizing mental illness while also promoting health and wellness as well as educating students, their parents and the community about the resources that are available to them to ensure that no one needlessly suffers.”

These efforts, according to the superintendent, can largely be attributed to Point Pleasant Borough High School’s Youth Wellness Council and their advisor, district Social Worker for Grades 6 through 12, Marcie Bradley. Mrs. Bradley established the Council in 2015 with the goal of raising mental health awareness and promoting health wellness among Point Pleasant Borough High School’s students.

“The concept for Point Pleasant Borough High School’s Youth Wellness Council came about in April 2015 after I, along with five of our then freshman and sophomores attended the first ever Ocean County Be Well Youth Wellness Summit,” said Mrs. Bradley. “The Summit, which was coordinated by the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, was designed to provide students, school administrators and school personnel with current and accurate information about suicide and other mental health issues affecting teens as well as to provide resources and guidance to support overall wellness. The event instilled methods and practices that promote wellness and positive mental health among students, helping them learn effective problem solving strategies and enhancing their leadership skills.

“The expectation was that the students that attended the Summit would later turnkey what they learned and share it with their peers through positive messaging communicated during Mental Health Awareness Month in May 2015,” she said. “What actually happened, though, exceeded my every expectation.”

According to Mrs. Bradley, after returning from the Summit, the students immediately began brainstorming activities and events not only for Mental Health Awareness Month but also for Suicide Awareness Month the following September and beyond.

wellness summit“The students really demonstrated a profound commitment to this cause and in so doing, really effectively communicated the necessity of this organization,” she said. “Thus the Youth Wellness Council was born.”

Mrs. Bradley said since its inception, the Council, on which there are currently nine students serving, has planned and executed numerous activities and events.

“For the past two years – in May and again in September – the Council has helped raise awareness about mental health by featuring mental health facts on the daily announcements, by hanging mental health themed posters throughout the school, and by filming video public service announcements, which are broadcast on the school’s morning video announcements,” she said.

Activities aren’t limited to just May and September however, throughout the year, the Council also broadcasts the Wednesday Wellness Tip each week, during Wednesday’s morning announcements.

“Although there are frequent awareness-building events and activities throughout the year, our big event is the Wellness Summit,” said Mrs. Bradley. “Based on the success of and our students’ positive response to the Ocean County Be Well Youth Summit, we sought last year to duplicate the event in the district. Our inaugural mini-summit was held last year to excellent results.”

Point Pleasant Borough High School’s Second Annual Wellness Summit was held at the school Oct. 26.

The Second Annual Wellness Summit’s featured exhibitors included 2nd Floor, New Jersey’s youth helpline, Prevention First, Harbor House, the St. Francis Center, and the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide as well as Lotus Lounge Yoga. Students attended the summit during their gym periods, where they learned about the resources available to them during times of crisis in addition to some positive coping skills.

“The students came to the Summit prepared with a sheet of prompt questions that they could pose to the vendors who would later sign off on the sheet,” Mrs. Bradley said. “This helped facilitate a dialogue among our students and the representatives from each organization.”

Students could opt to stick to the provided prompts, questioning the organizations about their goals, location, hours and other details or they could opt for a more organic discussion or even take part in interactive elements prepared by the exhibitors. Prevention First, a non-profit organization focused on the prevention of alcohol and drug abuse, featured a wheel of chance on which students had to guess if the depicted image was candy or drugs. The St. Francis Center’s booth included a True or False Sexual Assault quiz, each question revealing a true and surprising statistic about rape and sexual assault. The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide educated students about the importance of designating a trusted adult, even distributing cards on which students could write their trusted adult’s name and contact information. And throughout the Summit, instructors from Lotus Lounge Yoga taught yoga to small groups of students.

“The purpose of the Summit is to help raise awareness about mental illness and also to promote positive mental health strategies,” said Mrs. Bradley. “We want students to know, the importance of seeking help when it’s needed, that it’s ok to not be ok, and above all, that they are never alone.”

Mrs. Bradley said she’s hopeful that after attending the mini-summit, students will be able to more comfortably speak about the sensitive topic of mental health, something Council member Sophomore Anna Dowling is confident will happen, she said, “We’re dealing with such an important issue that, Youth Wellness Councilunfortunately most students don’t discuss.

“I think the Youth Council’s role in the Summit and in the school definitely helps because the message is between peers, which is more beneficial to initiate a dialogue,’ said Dowling, 15. “The message just seems more authentic when it’s between peers.”

Junior Jacklyn Henry, who has served on the council since its inception and also serves on the Executive Board of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, agreed, saying, “We’re able to communicate with our fellow students in a way that is familiar and because what we’re doing is so important, we want to be sure to communicate in way that is more resounding.”

“To learn effectively, students must be at their best both physically and mentally,” said Superintendent Smith. “When a deficit occurs in either area, a student cannot achieve his or her potential. Mental illness can be a difficult topic to broach because of the heavy stigma surrounding it, but that stigma is dangerous and can even be deadly because it is often what prevents people from seeking the help they need.

“It’s for this reason that early and consistent mental health education is critical,” he said. “We have to help young people develop effective coping skills when faced with the challenges of adolescence and before they consider turning to negative coping behaviors. I commend Mrs. Bradley and the members of the Youth Wellness Council for their efforts to stop the stigma against mental illness.”

The Youth Wellness Council is Ryan Sansone, Erin Blisnuk, Trevor McNamara, Jacklyn Henry, Anna Dowling, Halle Ferm, Carson Swisher, Jake Toner and Briella Pulitano. Marcie Bradley and Point Pleasant Borough High School Guidance Counselor Kathy Molyneaux serve as co-advisors.