Mental Health Committee

Students take a stand to improve access to resources

by Serena Deranleau and Kate Grutz

As Shorewood students have lived through the pandemic, there’s no denying that the mental health of many students has suffered greatly. Some students feel that there isn’t enough support for those struggling with mental illness and this has led to a new mental health committee being formed.

Siyam Tekle, senior, student body president, and Hip Hop captain, started the mental health committee. “[It’s] made up of anyone who is interested,” she said. The goal of the committee is to have open discussions. “It’s focused around bringing up mental health at school.” Though Tekle believes mental health sometimes comes up in classes, real action doesn’t usually happen and it just gets brought up now and again performatively. “Mental health is brought up, like ‘mental health matters’, and then it doesn’t matter for the next year,” she said.

The message of the committee is that Shorewood has poor mental health support options and students need a greater voice. “Students shouldn’t have to go so far and beyond to get something that should already be there,” Tekle said. Elizah Rendorio, senior and member of the committee, agrees with Tekle. “Teachers don’t really understand the human side that students have, and understand that we’re all complex individuals, we all have different needs, we all have different circumstances,” Rendorio said. 

Rendorio does not feel like the community at schools is open enough when talking about mental health. “Shorewood doesn’t have a lot of people who you feel like you can connect to on that type of basis,” she said. 

The committee held a meeting where teachers were invited to come and hear student perspectives on mental health as well as speak about their experiences. Tekle wanted to talk to community members at Shorewood to alert them of their concerns.

‘“Our first meeting was with teachers, any staff who wanted to, they were invited, and we talked about how we thought mental health was brought up in schools,” she said. Nathan Lee, math teacher, was in attendance. 

Initially, Lee was impressed by the students’ work. “Wow, this is amazing, it’s student-led, they’re taking initiative” he said, but felt “it shouldn’t be their job to do that.” Tekle also noted the lack of institutional support. “This is good first steps. This is something people actually care about, and unfortunately it took a student to do it,” Tekle said.

Lee understands how teachers play a role in the problem. “A lot of the stress that the students feel are the effects of teachers feeling like they have to keep up with the curriculum pace,” he said. In an effort to uplift students’ well-being, he is as adaptable as possible in his classroom. “Personally, I think all teachers should be adaptable. I think they should be humans first and then curriculum teachers second,” Lee said.

For Lee, a big takeaway after attending the meeting and hearing the student perspectives was that students really are trying to manage as best they can. 

“It’s not that students don’t want to get help–they really do, and a lot of them are taking really actionable steps to try to get help, but there are no resources,” he said. 

The committee tries to spread awareness about the resources available at Shorewood. The committee’s goal is to create change within the school and how it approaches mental health as well as provide a space for people to connect. “There’s confusion around what we have here at Shorewood, and I want to make sure that everyone knows what’s here,” said Tekle.

Rendorio said the committee is much more than just its action, but the fact that students have a space to come together. “It’s a comforting space for the students, therefore we’re allowed to be unapologetic about what we say, and I really thank [Tekle] for giving many people that space to do that,” she said. The committee has made a difference in Rendorio’s life and in the lives of others. “This is a very special and sacred place for a lot of people,” Rendorio said. 

At meetings there is a lot of support for struggling students without unhelpful pressure. “[There’s] this false grind narrative that you need to just keep pushing. It’s not realistic, because the circumstances that each [person has] is so different,” Rendorio said.

Many participants of the committee will be graduating this year and plan to pass the torch to younger members. As the committee has emerged, more and more members have been joining. “There have been more people coming, which we all really appreciate, and I encourage,” Rendorio said.

Every member of the committee is dedicated to the cause, spreading awareness about mental health Tekle said, “I’m trying my best to vocalize for people, and so are the students that are showing up, so I’m proud.”