Mental Health Awareness Week at West

Mental Health Awareness Week is April 30 through May 4

Mental Health Awareness Week is April 30 through May 4

Gina Quatrino, Production Editor

April 30 through May 4, the school will be recognizing its first ever Mental Health Awareness week. Students across the campus can participate in activities that will promote different ways to understand and cope with mental illnesses. Alongside the school administration, the event was planned by Nurse Carolyn Larson. Larson is a strong advocate for changing the way we talk about mental illness in schools, and how we can combat the stigma surrounding it.

Why is it important to you that Plano West recognizes Mental Health Awareness Month?

“The academic intensity in which we are raising our youth is very stressful. We’re so good at teaching you at all the things you need to know for college and academics, but when the stress caves in and you’re riddled with anxiety, those numbers don’t matter. There is so much riding on test performances, grades, class rank and social life, but we’re forgetting the most important thing, and that is mental health.”

Why do you think the school has never addressed it in this way before?

“The topic of mental health as a whole makes people uncomfortable. I think adults are afraid to talk about it because they don’t understand it. Nobody knows how to address it, but I want people to know that it is okay to talk about. The other thing is that this community is very diverse, and in some cultures they don’t accept mental illness as a clinical concern. But it is a real illness.”

What can be expected throughout the week?

“The theme for the week is ‘Whole Body Mental Health,’ and there will be all sorts of activities happening around the school that students and staff members can take part in. There will also be bulletin boards decorated across the campus, which will map out coping mechanisms for different mental illnesses and stressors. Whether you want to stand and stare at them, or take a picture and walk away, it is reminding our community that there are so many resources for them.”

Being the school nurse, do you see a lot of students affected by mental illness?

“I see kids struggling every day, mainly with anxieties surrounding school, but there is more than that. Some people need earbuds and music to relax, while others need to take a walk outside. Some students just want to sit in here and talk, while others don’t want to say a word. My goal as the nurse is to respond quickly enough and understand their cues as best as I can to help. It’s being able to recognize when something is related to a larger mental illness and how I can support that. Students can come in and talk to me and I don’t need to know their name or ID number. It is always anonymous and a safe place to come if they just need to talk.”

What can students do to help their peers who do not want to discuss their health with adults?

“We realize that most students don’t want to talk to an adult about their mental illness. That is why I support using the Crisis Text Line* so much. Sometimes, it’s more comfortable to talk when it’s not face to face. A friend referring them to that hotline can guide them to getting the help and advice that they need. Overall though, just being their friend without discrediting their emotions goes a long way.”

What do you hope the school will take away from this week-long event?

“I hope that people can walk away knowing that there is an awesome support system here at Plano West. Between me as the school nurse, the teachers, the counselors and the remaining staff, there’s a great group of people that can help. You do not have to suffer by yourself. I think a successful outcome would be someone realizing that there is help out there for them that is tailored to their specific needs. I know that what I am doing is very ambitious and I can’t erase the stigma that society holds, but if I can just redirect our focus to make sure that everyone understands that it’s okay and that you’re not alone, that would be a good starting point.”

* Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Text 741741 from anywhere in the United States to talk with a trained Crisis Counselor (