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St. Charles Students Work to Dismantle the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

St. Charles North H.O.P.E. Club members actively spread the message that mental health matters among peers.

Dismantling the stigma around mental health is a team effort.

Young people are rising up and educating themselves around topics and social issues that previously were buried under toxic positivity, generations of judgment, and the toxic side of the American dream that pushed the agenda of a never-ending “can-do” attitude.

  • Over 1 in 10 youth in the U.S. are experiencing depression that is severely impairing their ability to function at school or work, at home, with family, or in their social life

  • 16.39% of youth (age 12-17) report suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past year

  • Over 2.7 million youth are experiencing severe major depression

What young people today have wisely observed is that success at any cost, is unsustainable. And our mental health should finally start to take top priority.

There are some amazing high school students in our own community who have rallied together to educate their peers about mental health, why it’s important to ditch the stigma and shame surrounding a diagnosis, and how to cope in healthy ways with everyday stressors.

I had the pleasure of interviewing three students at St. Charles North High School in St. Charles, Illinois, to speak about mental health and their enthusiastic involvement in an initiative focused on educating their peers about coping skills and the misconceptions around the conversation of mental health.

Kathryn McVicar, Sophia Olech, and Jessica Greunke are members of H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Protect Each Other).

Each year, H.O.P.E. Club hosts Prevention Week with the theme “Mental Health Matters” to remind students about the impact of mental health disorders and the importance of making mental health a priority.

Image via H.O.P.E. Club on Instagram

“No one really knows what someone else is going through and I want to teach students that mental illness is a real issue,” said Sophia. “Mental health is just as important as physical health.”

Sophia shared that through H.O.P.E. Club, she’s learned a lot about prioritizing mental health, taking breaks, and allowing herself some grace when life gets overwhelming.

“It's okay to not be okay,” said Sophia.

H.O.P.E Club has two main events during the school year to raise awareness, Red Ribbon Week and a Suicide Prevent Assembly.

Sophia shared that not only is she working to spread the word about mental health through school programs like H.O.P.E Club, but she’s also interested in the suicide prevention aspect of mental health.

“Throughout Covid and the past few years, the suicide rates have gone up significantly,” explained Sophia. “This is such an important issue that needs to be addressed.”

And Sophia’s right. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), almost 20% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide, and 9% report they have made an attempt to commit suicide.

Kathryn has discovered valuable takeaways to apply to her own well-being from H.O.P.E Club, including finding an anti-drug, having a trusted adult, seeking support, finding your worth, and activities that promote positivity in your mental health.

Beyond high school, Kathryn is pursuing a career in Industrial Organizational Psychology and jumping into the research side of mental health.

“I want to be able to help be a part of the change for future generations to make not only the stigma decrease but to allow the treatment plans to be even more successful for patients so that everyone can have a good quality of life that isn’t held back by their mental state,” Kathryn shared about her interest in studying psychology.

Now more than ever, Kathryn is committed to mental health advocacy.

“I think there is such a large stigma surrounding mental health because of how it has been addressed throughout the centuries, shared Kathryn. “I have done a lot of research papers for many of my classes and seeing the evolution from when mentally ill patients were executed for witchcraft shows that we’ve been raised on stigmatizing mental health.”

Jessica too has learned the value of prioritizing mental health through H.O.P.E. Club.

“In order to be content with others and in all areas of your life, you need to be happy with yourself first,” shared Jessica. “I try to take lots of breaks and do things I enjoy instead of trying to “power through” all my hard moments. This helps me slow down chaotic moments.”

All three students spoke of the stigma and their mission to dismantle the shame around asking for help. Sophia started in H.O.P.E. Club in middle school, writing uplifting and encouraging notes to friends for prevention week, and is proud to work on larger initiatives like the mental health assembly.

“Talking about mental health can put someone in a vulnerable position,” said Jessica. “Someone may not want to admit they're struggling.”

According to the American Psychiatric Association. There are three types of stigma surrounding mental health, which identify just how deep and negatively impactful our world can be when we’re struggling:

  • Public stigma involves the negative or discriminatory attitudes that others have about mental illness.*

  • Self-stigma refers to the negative attitudes, including internalized shame, that people with mental illness have about their own condition.*

  • Institutional stigma is more systemic, involving policies of government and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness. Examples include lower funding for mental illness research or fewer mental health services relative to other health care.*

Thankfully, there are young advocates in our community who are not afraid to rise up and be a shining light of hope around the topic of mental health. Kathryn, Sophia, and Jessica are examples of young adults who will one day enter the world and their respective workforces to be thought leaders and true representatives who help others protect each other.

For more information about H.O.P.E. Club at St. Charles North, view the club’s informational flyer below and follow the club's Instagram page.


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