New approach to mental health

First Aid program supports students and encourages them to reach out to peers

Amelia Angelo, Journalism student

If you want change among peers you want students to help each other instead of teachers telling them what to do[/pullquote]5:45: wake up, be at school and in class by 7:35, finish school by 2:03, 2:30 tutorial, 4:15 out of school activities, 6:00 at home responsibilities, 8:30 homework, 10:30 try to sleep and not to think about how you feel, 12:00 finally fall asleep.

Many students can be seen looking exhausted at school, no motivation, with hoods up, headphones in and heads down. Some people may play this off as “teenagers being teenagers,” but it is so much more than that.

Hunterdon Central Regional high school has a new program available, the Mental Health First Aid Program. Zurawiecki, the Supervisor of Counseling Services at Central, earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology.

Dr. Zurawiecki organized this program and is certified in Mental Health First Aid. “It is for recognizing signs and symptoms of mental health, distress, and substance abuse,” she said.

Students and faculty have come together to create a safe place for students to express themselves without judgment. This program gives students a chance to recognize mental illnesses and prioritize mental health.

— Dr. Danielle Zurawiecki, Supervisor of Counseling Services

According to Dr. Zurawiecki, this program was started in Australia and given to HCRHS through a grant from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing in partnership with Born This Way.

Mental health can have an enormous impact on one’s self, especially high school students. About 2,648 students attend Hunterdon Central Regional High School, according to the public school review. Between all the students and staff poor mental health has been more widely recognized.

This program provides students with ways to cope and communicate healthily with their feelings and relate to others. “If you want change among peers you want students to help each other instead of teachers telling them what to do,” Dr. Zurawiecki said. Giving students the freedom to reach out ensures that they want to see a difference without it being forced on them.

Staff and even students can get trained to help those around them. Group sessions take place for these meetings and students are encouraged to express how they feel and work through it.

Ms. Tori Craig is an English teacher with a psychology bachelor’s degree who volunteered for training. “If we had the time, everyone should be trained in this,” she said.

Teachers played a big part in this program. Classes start with lecture-type talks and then go into break-out rooms to separate the class. Topics then get picked for each group as well as hypothetical questions and scenarios. Teachers are taught to take the proper steps before or after mental health incidents.

Ms. Stacy Heller, a Student Assistance Counselor who teaches mental health first aid explained how each sophomore class is given Mental Health First Aid courses through their health classes. These classes are taught by trained juniors and staff that are certified and are fairly small.

In these classes students are taught to ask questions and go through a process of accepting emotions and thoughts in a natural way, she said. Certified students & staff give methods to overcome whatever problems you are facing healthily. At the end of each class exit tickets are assigned about how you feel and if a counselor is needed to talk to.

This program has had immense success so far and is proving to be worth it. “I wouldn’t have picked something if I didn’t think it would have an impact,” Dr. Zurawiecki said.

Members of the Mental Health First Aid program hope to see better habits & health all around Hunterdon Central High School with this program in place.