A helping hand

May 21, 2020

Kailey Gee

To help with the feeling of isolation and the effects it has on a person’s mental health, the CDC recommends staying connected with others and sharing how you are feeling to a family member or friends. For Logan, having people to talk to is a reliever and helps improve his mental state. 

“Being able to open up to someone [with] no judgement about it, it’s really nice. You’re able to get all of your emotions out in a positive way. You’re able to communicate how you’re feeling, and then you’re able to deal with it,” Logan said. 

Unlike physical health, mental health conditions can go unseen. According to Kerns, some people don’t notice her condition, and it’s difficult to find others who are in the same position as her. 

“The thing with something like anxiety is you never know who has it. Oftentimes when people find out I have anxiety, they are surprised. At school I’m outgoing and I take on leadership roles. What people don’t realize is I go home and analyze everything I did or said that day and worry that I messed up. I’m good at hiding my anxiety, and other people are too, so it’s hard to find those similar to me,” Kerns said.

Without knowing the condition of others, it makes the tasks of identifying a peer’s mental health disorder more complicated. To combat this, DeGrazia recommends staying in touch with your peers.

“When you’re not being forced to see people, it’s really easy to just be like, ‘I’m just gonna block myself off from the world’ and that’s not good for anyone, you don’t want to keep it all in,” DeGrazia said. “Talk to somebody about it, so it’s good to encourage that and just check in [with others].”

At West, Student Family Advocates Schneider and John Roarick offer many mental health services at the guidance office. Due to school closures, this is no longer possible. However, these resources are being offered in a new, virtual form.

“All of us in guidance are available by email and we even have ’email office hours’ twice a week. During this time we are immediately available to communicate back and forth with students through email about any of their mental health, academic or social emotional concerns,” Roarick said.

Other services such as Zoom and phone calls are offered. The guidance office is making sure there are as many resources available to students as possible.

“I would say we would do a lot of crisis intervention, just a lot of informal check-ins [and] those types of things, but one of the things that we really love doing is connecting students with mental health resources,” Schneider said.

At first, DeGrazia was hesitant to step into the guidance office to receive mental health therapy, but looking back she does not regret her decision.

“I think that kids should take more advantage of it, because to be honest I think everybody needs a therapist at some point in their lives, just like we go and we get checkups at the doctor. I think there’s just kind of a stigma around it, which I’m guilty of even kind of falling [into] because it was really hard for me to go, especially the first time, I felt embarrassed and ashamed. But I didn’t need to be … it was great,” DeGrazia said.

Special Education Teacher Rick Hancox is the keeper of the Student Self-Care and Support Circle, a way for students to connect with others and feel a sense of community during this isolated time. Hancox sent an email to all West students April 28 to survey their interest in participating in these structured conversations with others. For the past three years, the circle was for staff members and occasionally some students. Now it has expanded to the whole student population during this time of social distancing. 

“Being with friends and hanging out and seeing them at lunch and having those conversations are really important. And even teachers in the building: we’re learning, and I’ve learned personally I’ve taken for granted some of the relationships that I had [and] that I depended upon during my day [that] there aren’t anymore, so there’s these gaps in these holes and I think circle is a way to help fill those gaps and allow people to reconnect again and just people’s company,” Hancox said.

Providing an environment for students to share their thoughts during social distancing can ease a student’s mental health condition. 

“[Keeping your feelings in] is like an invisible bag of bricks, but when you’re able to lay your trust and your relationship with [someone] and you share those bricks, your load is actually lighter. Sometimes those bricks disappear, there are times you learn how to carry them differently to your benefit as opposed to you feeling like you’re isolated,” Hancox said.

While society and daily lives have been drastically transformed, supporting and helping others should not change during this time.

[Keeping your feelings in] is like an invisible bag of bricks, but when you’re able to lay your trust and your relationship with [someone] and you share those bricks, your load is actually lighter.”

— Rick Hancox, special education teacher

“I think it would be the same as if you were in person and life was going on as normal. If you felt like your friend was struggling, ask them if they are. I think that’s the first step,” Espe-Pfeifer said. “They may be feeling a lot of the same emotions and frustrations that you’re feeling and help them problem solve and help them. If you feel like you can’t help them do that, then ask their permission to help them talk to somebody, whether it’s one of their family members, trying to research what some different resources might be and just letting them know it’s okay to be struggling right now, because all of us are having those moments. This is new for everybody.”

When a student sees their peer having a difficult time, Guidance Counselor Greg Yoder recommends checking in with the student and making sure they know they aren’t alone in their difficulties.

“Just encourage students, if there’s a struggle that they are having, reach out to someone [such as] a trusted adult. If there’s a problem taking place in the home, reach out to a teacher that they trust or counselor. If their family’s experiencing some difficulties, just make sure that you’re reaching out,” Yoder said. “There’s no reason that a student has to go through this stuff alone. As educators, we want to see that everybody is well and is taken care of, and we want to be there to assist.”

West is still offering many mental health services despite the school closure, but students can also reach out to their peers as they are only a text or phone call away. These seemingly small and effortless actions can have a big impact for those who need the support.

“The one thing that triggers off a good [moment] is really any kind of act of kindness,” Logan said. “[It] is just the small things people do … simple things can help a lot.”


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