Third Annual MHAW Continues to Benefit Community

Anna Avanesyan '19 and Mizia Wessel '19

Sidwell held its third annual Mental Health Awareness Week from Nov. 13-17, with student organizers working to raise awareness about mental health problems that affect high school students and reduce the stigma surrounding these problems.

Building on the efforts of Molly Irvin ’16, the Sidwell alumna who organized the first Mental Health Awareness week during her senior year, current Sidwell juniors Elizabeth Irvin and Jamie Landy led a team of their peers to identify mental health experts who would be willing to speak to students, get ideas approved by the Sidwell administration, and promote the week’s events with posters and other marketing materials. 

Elizabeth Irvin said she finds it rewarding to see how Mental Health Awareness Week helps to “educate the school about common mental illnesses” and make students more comfortable talking about them.

The week began with an Upper School collection where Sidwell students were asked to think about mental health and the ways in which it affects their lives and the lives of people around them. Students who participated in a panel discussion at the meeting said mental illness may manifest itself in ways students may not consciously observe. 

Elizabeth Irvin said the discussion “was a great way to deliver our message about breaking the stigma [surrounding mental illnesses] to the entire student body at once, and hopefully, the collection also got everyone excited for the events later in the week.”

Throughout the week, Upper School students and faculty were encouraged to attend lunch presentations on topics such as juvenile depression, mindfulness, and social work. 

Landy said he was happy with the reaction from students. “It was so amazing to see how many people were invested in showing their support for the week,” he said. “From wearing the pins and stickers, to coming to the lunch meetings, to being speakers on the panel.” 

The week’s events were planned primarily by students. Upper School Psychologist and faculty advisor Dr. Kasaan Holmes said her role was to provide support to the Mental Health Awareness Week team. Holmes said she gave input to the team based on what she sees in her “day to day experiences, which are sometimes a bit different from what students see or experience.”

Holmes said the Upper School student body helped make the week a success by filling out surveys and suggesting the areas of focus for the week. By incorporating the ideas and interests of the student body, Mental Health Awareness Week is designed to be relevant to all students and help them cope with the mental health issues that they -- and the people around them - are facing.

Holmes said she believes that “students [have come] to expect” the annual series of events and that the week highlights the importance of mental health while encouraging more open discussion of mental health issues.

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