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Continuing the Paradigm Shift

Written by Ashley Nowak

It’s 2019 and I am grateful that we, as a society, have made huge strides in how we perceive and approach mental health. Through some legislation, activists on social media, and more accessible resources, discussing mental health is becoming more and more normalized.  It is imperative that we keep this momentum going for a full systemic paradigm shift.

It has (somehow) been thirteen years since I myself have been a high school student but as a high school teacher today, I am pleasantly surprised at some of the changes I have seen. When I was in high school, our counselors were seen as “those people who sit in their offices and help us sign up for classes and only talk to people with serious problems.” There was no mention of mental health our our health classes. And among my peers, we really didn’t talk about things like depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. It was taboo. Today, I am thankful to work in a school district where our counselors are actively working with all students in many aspects of their lives. There are posters around school encouraging students who are struggling to seek help. Our health teachers intentionally embed mental health components into their curriculum. And in general, students are more likely to discuss their mental and emotional state with each other and teachers. While this is all great, I do know that many districts are not this way. I also know that this shift cannot solely take place in schools. It is a complex issue and we all play a role in changing how we perceive and approach it.

No change occurs in silos. We are all responsible members in continuing the change: educators, counselors, administrators, doctors, nurses, parents, siblings, peers, therapists, and increasingly, social media. It has and will take the many institutions within our society to take active measures and ultimately unite with our common goal. One way continue the shift is to use a trauma-informed care mindset. For example, we change our thinking from, “why is he/she giving me such a hard time?” to “he/she must be having a really hard time.”  If we can perceive individuals through this lens, we can recognize the true barriers that stand in our way.

While I certainly do not have all the answers to the many challenging questions that revolve around this topic, I am certain that we need to keep up these conversations, shift our way of thinking, and fight to break any barriers that stand in our way. We have come so far, and with persistence we will continue to make progress on how we perceive and approach mental health. I am hopeful that in another thirteen years, the paradigm will have shifted completely. We will recognize mental health as completely normal and approach it with the care it deserves.

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Mental Health in Wisconsin Teens: let’s talk about it

Written By Ashley Nowak

This time of year can be tough. Holidays are over, it is frigid cold, and summer seems so far away. With these despairing thoughts, it is the perfect time to talk about mental health.

According to the Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior 2017 Survey (conducted by the Department of Public Instruction), 27% of Wisconsin high school students feel depressed, almost 40% suffer from anxiety, and 16.6% of students have self harmed. These numbers may be startling but they are our reality.

It may not be enjoyable but talking about it is super important. While it seems easier to suppress our own feelings or ignore the friend who has been acting different, doing this is only harder in the long run. Instead, I encourage you speak your truths out loud even if it seems uncomfortable. The more we talk about it, the more normal it becomes.  And while our statistics are for Wisconsin teens, this is not just a Wisconsin issue. This is an everyone issue. We all have our days, weeks, months, or even years when life seems too difficult and/or overwhelming. But if we don’t talk about it, our mental health concerns can turn from a light grey cloud to a dark looming storm.

So try picking up the phone, sending an email, or shooting a text. Check in with your friend, sibling, parent, or colleague. Talk about mental health. It is as normal as we make it.

Here are some ideas for conversations starters:

If you are the one struggling:

“It’s been a tough day/week/month/year, is it OK if I tell you about it?”

“This may be tough to hear, but I need to talk about [   ] .”

“This is hard for me to talk about, but I feel it is important that I tell you about my [    ]”

“I want to be honest about how I am feeling.…”

If you’re checking in with a friend:

“I just wanted to let you know I am here for you.”

“If you’re ever going through a difficult time, I hope you know I am always willing to listen.”

“Do you need someone to talk to?” or “Do you need someone to listen?”

“I care about you.”

Or list a specific thing you can do for that person and ask them if you can do that. Sometimes people do not know what they need until you offer it.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash