BURLINGTON — Teenagers at Burlington High School do not want to wait to talk about mental health. They are doing it early and school counselors believe it is crucial.
As part of the school's first Mental Health Awareness Week, senior Malik Tiedt, was joined by a couple dozen students at lunch who wanted to learn about meditation Thursday.
"Meditation for me is an experience to get away from the outside stressors," Tiedt told the crowd.
Students there told us they showed up because they are starting to feel the stress with upcoming exams and graduation. They also want to improve their overall mental health. One student was open about her past mental health struggles and how she sought medical help.
"I've had anxiety all my life. When I got to my high school years it really accelerated. I really came to understand I wasn't struggling by myself. I had friends that struggled," said Tiedt.
Tiedt, who is striving for a career in public heath, said the anxiety got so bad that he was experiencing weekly panic attacks. He said one of the tools that helped him was guided meditation and knowing he was not alone.
That was when he decided he wanted to help others and got to work organizing Mental Health Awareness Week. The week started Monday February 25 and included mental health speakers and guided meditation. Kids who signed a commitment letter to support mental health got a shirt, a visible reminder that their peers and faculty care.
"I want to help students stand up for themselves and create a community of support to help others do their through their own difficulties as well," said Tiedt.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 youth between the ages of 13-18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point. They also report that half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14, that goes up to three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, it may be years or decades between the first sign of symptoms and when people get help.
School counselors said de-stigmatizing mental health early can make a difference.
"Students have to feel like they have a safe place. They have to have that relationship. That is huge. If they have any kind of relationship with any adult in the building that's instrumental to their success," said Jennifer Reuchlen, school counselor at Burlington High School.