• Feb. 17, 2021

    Students focus on mental health

    NAMI Conference More than 25 Upper St. Clair High School students recently attended the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) virtual conference on Feb. 5, 2021. The students are members of the school’s Student Council, Natural Helpers, Mending Mindsets, and Student Wellness groups with an interest in mental health.

    RJ Shontz, junior class president and a member of the school’s Natural Helpers, welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with different Upper St. Clair High School groups that share the focus of mental health.

    “It was great to network and build relationships through discussing and learning about a topic that tied all of our different groups together,” RJ said. “Spreading awareness is the first step to making change. In order for growth within our school regarding this topic, everyone must first learn and acknowledge the role that mental health plays across our community.”

    The theme of the conference was Closing the Gap: Prioritizing the Needs of Traumatized Youth and included presentations on coping strategies for youth in the pandemic, suicide prevention and mental health education, and the influence of social media on teens.

    Sophomore Yoshna Venkataraman recently started the Mending Mindsets Club at the high school to spread mental health awareness throughout the student body.

    “I believe that being more educated on mental illnesses could potentially create a better quality of life for people struggling,” Yoshna said. “It is crucial that the student body learn about how much mental illness has an impact on those around us. Having opportunities like NAMI conferences allows us to be more aware of how we can spread awareness and how to make our school a safer place for us to talk about how we feel.”

    Following the conference, Yoshna has a renewed commitment to spread mental health awareness throughout the school.

    “I want to get the message of ‘it's okay to not be okay’ across and to let others know that there is a safe place you can go to talk about what you're feeling,” she said. “It is important for students to know that they are not alone and that there are trusted adults they can go to.”

    For Sarah Robert, a sophomore and member of Natural Helpers, the event inspired her to set a goal of helping to destigmatize mental health.

    “A big issue that we talked about and learned about during the event was that a lot of people feel alone in their struggles,” Sarah said. “My biggest take-away from the event was that mental health needs to be talked about more.”

    Next up for these student groups is the Stand Together initiative, which is facilitated through Allegheny County’s Office of Behavioral Health. With more than 25 area schools participating, Stand Together inspires and equips youths to take action against stigma associated with mental health and substance abuse disorders. In its eighth year, Stand Together focuses on three goals: 

    • Students work to “stand together” to increase education and awareness, 
    • Increase social inclusion
    • Encourage adolescents to talk to an adult if they are concerned about their own or another student’s mental health.