Megan Miccio spoke to the Thomas Jefferson High School community on the importance of caring for one’s mental health during the global pandemic.
Adolescents struggle with their mental health in the best of times; the stress of academic responsibilities, social pressures, and impending adulthood can lead to behavioral and emotional upheaval. With the addition of a global pandemic, economic turndown, and widespread racial injustice, a society of mentally healthy teens seems more unreachable than ever. Luckily, the TJ community is determined to supply Spartans with the tools necessary to combat anxiety, depression, and other mental maladies that thrive in uncertain times. TJ’s Interact Club, a student-led community service group, collaborated with Megan Miccio, TJ’s school health professional, to deliver a mental health awareness event to Thomas Jefferson High School on Monday, March 22, 2021.
“I think it’s important for students to learn about mental health, not only for themselves but to know what to recognize in others. The more students authentically talk about mental health, the more they’ll feel connected. It will help reduce some of that stigma that still exists around mental health,” Miccio expressed. The hour-long Zoom event gave students the opportunity to learn more about the mental health resources available to them at TJ and to gain a better understanding of the unique mental health struggles that teens throughout Denver Public Schools are reckoning with.
Miccio used PearDeck, an online interactive presentation tool, to gather feedback from the students throughout the presentation. To begin, students were prompted to type what was “filling their bucket” and what was “draining their bucket” into the PearDeck platform. Many students reported feeling stressed about their upcoming Advanced Placement and SAT exams. “I think that learning that a lot of other people are going through the same stress is sort of rewarding in a way because you know that you are not alone,” commented junior Eva Pavlik, a member of Interact. Students were also given the opportunity to write a paragraph about action steps they believed TJ could take to better support Spartans’ mental health. “As I was putting [the presentation] together, I just thought it was really important to put in what the students are saying and experiencing,” Miccio recalled.
A major portion of the mental health event was centered around statistics from two sources: the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a biennial survey administered across the state that focuses on school-age children’s health and school policies that support student health, and Stanford University’s Challenge Success Survey, a survey for secondary school students centered around student engagement and well-being that was administered to TJ students. While some figures were disheartening—Healthy Kids Colorado reported that 35.5% of TJ students “felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in the past 12 months that they stopped doing some usual activities”—other data revealed just how robust and effective TJ’s mental health department is; according to Stanford’s Challenge Success Survey, 75% of TJ students are “somewhat,” “quite,” or “very” confident in their ability to cope with stress, and 81.6% of students feel they have an adult at school they can go to if they have a personal problem. “When I was looking at the Healthy Kids data and that Challenge Success survey, I found it really comforting that even during these challenging times during COVID and remote learning, students still feel supported at TJ, and it was really wonderful that students expressed that they know how to cope with stress and that they felt they had a trusted adult they could go to,” Miccio enthused.
Miccio also dedicated a slide to TJ’s newest required class, Advisement. She described how the course was born out of a desire to incorporate more social-emotional learning into DPS students’ lives. “It was interesting to learn about why TJ started Advisement,” Pavlik reflected. “I know initially I was a little annoyed because of how early it is, but it was good to know that it was created to help students in this crazy time with this pandemic when none of us know what is really going on and there are a lot of crazy changes.”
Sixteen members of the TJ community attended the event, but it is likely that many more individuals will be impacted by Interact and Miccio’s decision to place a spotlight on mental health. “I think it’s really important to learn about mental health so that I can help my friends and help myself grow,” said Pavlik. Not only will understanding mental health help attendees better manage their own emotional state, but it also helps them address other individuals’ internal struggles with more compassion and proficiency. Miccio added, “I think it’s important for students to learn about mental health not only for themselves but to know what to recognize in others.”
After the success of the speaker event, both Miccio and members of Interact hope to continue providing mental health-oriented events to the TJ community. “I really liked this event and I would really enjoy going to other ones and just learning more,” Pavlik remarked. “I think maybe we could talk about our mental health in more of a public setting because I know we’ve talked about how we can help with when we’re really stressed or anxious at home, like we’ve gone over meditation and things like that, but I think it would be really important to learn how we can cope with that in a public setting because you cannot just meditate in the middle of everyone.” As society begins to transition away from social distancing, the anxieties that accompany large crowds and public events are likely to emerge in full force. By equipping students with the right strategies to manage social anxiety, TJ could make the transition back to in-person learning smoother and safer. “I think it’s important to talk about this all year long—talk to students, parents, caregivers, even teachers and staff,” Miccio insisted. “Our mental well-being is impacted every single day. One day it can feel amazing and balanced and healthy, and the next day it can feel completely the opposite. Sometimes in school, we get lost with succeeding in our academics, but I think it’s very important that we focus on our mental health and our mental well-being.” As long as students and teachers continue to have conversations about mental health, the TJ community will continue to be resilient, flexible, and united.