Seminars aim to better mental health


Parker Nolan

Students in health classes have participated in the Youth Aware of Mental Health seminars in recent weeks. The seminars will be held again during the spring semester.

Grace Nguyen, Staff Reporter

Walking into the classroom, students sat down Monday ready for a regular day in their health class. As the bell rang, a tall, well-dressed man stepped in with a guest sticker on his button-up shirt. He greeted the students with a welcoming smile as his colleague pulled up a Youth Aware of Mental Health presentation on the StarBoard.

Throughout all health classes, every Monday from Oct. 24 to Nov. 14, students participated in the content of the program through booklets, posters, discussions, lectures, and role-play. The program will also come again for the health science classes in the spring semester.

“The goal is to have people understand that mental health is like your physical health, and you have to take care of it,” program facilitator Luis Gutierrez said. “There’s things you can do, and if you’re not doing well, there’s people you can talk to get help.”

The Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM) organization originated in a European trial research project named “Saving and Empowering Young Lives in Europe.” This project was performed to evaluate the effectiveness of different interventions for mental health promotion, suicide prevention, and help-seeking behavior among adolescents. Students in countries including Austria, Italy, France, and Romania were assessed.

“Twelve different countries and 12,000 people [were evaluated], and they found European students have decreased episodes of depression and depressive thoughts,” Gutierrez said.

After the program was presented in Europe, the organization saw changes in depression, suicidality, well-being, emotion symptoms, and conduct problems. The YAM program has successfully decreased the number of suicide attempts from .81 percent to .44 percent at a three month follow-up.  

“This is what we are using and trying to try to see if it works into the US schools,” Gutierrez said.

The YAM program that professionals, including Gutierrez, have implemented here is an adapted version taken from the European study.

“What we’re trying to do is teach kids and teens to have healthy lifestyles and to talk about mental health in a safe place,” Gutierrez said.

According to the group’s website, YAM is a culturally-sensitive program for 14-16 year olds offering a hands-on exploration of mental health topics through dialogue and play, consisting of five seminars in four weeks

The second seminar on Oct. 31 featured the program’s first roleplay session.

“We try to act out stressful and crisis situations, and our goal was just to understand and just to have an awareness of what if feels like to be in that situation,” Gutierrez said.

In this session, three students sat in front of the classroom roleplaying scenarios including moving to a different state, having a teen pregnancy, and dealing with depression.

“I thought [the role-play session] was fun and interesting,” freshman Madison Quiroga said. “It helped me give my friends advice when they were in trouble.”

Junior Connor Martin participated through his third period class and appreciated the emphasis on mental health.

“It’s serious and it needs to be approached with care,” Martin said.

Senior Josh Blumenthal said he wished he had the presentation in his earlier years but loved the message.

“I wish I had learned to deal with these situations as a freshman because as I have gone through high school, all of these situations have come up at some point,” Blumenthal said. “I feel like the presentation does a good job on touching on situations that actually happen.”

Freshman Matt Piccirillo participated in multiple role-playing sessions the class had to offer and shared his thoughts on how the presentation impacted the students taking the class.

“I think it’s a great things that our school is doing,” Piccirillo said. “It really prepares all of us in case we are put in something very stressful like some of the things we go over in the class period.”

For more information about YAM, click here.