FRESNO, California (KSEE) – Even before the pandemic, mental health illnesses were on the rise among teenagers; research showed increased rates of depression and attempted suicide.
Now students at Central High East are leading the effort to bring awareness about mental health.
Seniors Shaelynn Yang and Emily Avila made a presentation to the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health to highlight the benefits of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), which they are both members.
“I think mental health is important just in general. A lot of people don’t acknowledge it or want to say I’m struggling with something,” said club president Shaelynn Yang.
Mental health experts say over the last four years they have seen increased rates of depression and thoughts of suicide in young people, some even calling it a crisis. Shaelynn knows how hard it is for teens to ask for help
“I was going through my own mental health challenges and it was hard for me to reach out to people because I myself, I don’t like talking to people about how I feel.”
After joining the NAMI club, she was able to talk to her advisors. She says it relieved a lot of her stress. Now president of the club, Shaelyn is helping other students.
The events on campus are designed to not only help remove the stigma of mental illness but to reach out to kids who may be struggling.
“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t missing any kids that didn’t know they had a voice, didn’t know where to go to have a voice, didn’t know where to go if they were struggling with anything,” said NAMI club advisor Paul Mirmingos. “The kids that you see at lunchtime sitting off by themselves.”
They are the students members of NAMI work to draw in, providing them with a safe place to share their feelings.
Club members visit classrooms and perform skits to raise awareness about mental health. During the pandemic, they have turned to social media.
“There’s so many high school students who just check their Instagram real quick, or their Snapchat real quick, or their Twitter,” said Shaelynn. “That’s a huge way that we reach out.”
NAMI students shared what they have learned with the professional mental health workers in Fresno County, adding the voice of teens to the effort to address mental illness.
The Central High chapter of NAMI started three years ago.