WHS celebrates Mental Health Awareness Month with mental health fair

Photo by Izzy Kofsky

Student mental health has always been heavily impacted by stressors like school, family and extracurriculars; but since the pandemic, students’ mental state has taken an even more drastic turn. Thisyear, WHS has attempted to monitor and improve students’ mental health through various measures. Most recently, WHS held a Mental Health Fair on Tuesday, during all lunch periods in the main courtyard, to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month in May. 

The Mental Health Fair was organized primarily by Student Assistance Counselor Christine Trottere, who invited various local organizations. There were 15-20 tables set up and the organizations covered a wide range of issues, including grief and loss counseling, alcohol and drug prevention, domestic abuse counseling and gambing addiction. The booths provided informational pamphlets, colorful wristbands, free candy and other activities.

“The goal of the fair was to raise awareness and provide information about services within our community that our students and staff might not be aware of and to open up the conversation about mental health,” said Student Assistance Counselor Christine Trottere.

One of the counseling organizations that was present at the fair was the Westfield Mental Health Council. The council operates under the mayor’s office, and they operate under the acronym CAKES: Compassion, Acceptance, Kindness, Empathy, Stigma-free. 

“It’s wonderful that this generation is so much more open about mental health than the ones before them,” said Council Member Ellen Devin. “The youth of today realizes that physical and mental health are both important.”

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield was another organization present at the fair. Their mission is to enable all students to graduate on time and plan for the future. Kyla Booth is a counselor for the program and she said that students are “struggling most with socializing since the pandemic has started,” along with steering clear of negative influences. Boys and Girls Club Staff Member Deandre Hollingsworth said, “The club offers a safe haven and serves as a second home.” 

One problem that WHS students may face is intimate partner abuse, which is addressed by the Partnership for Change organization that was at the fair. The Partnership for Change does education and training on intimate partner abuse, and they train teachers, counselors and police officers. Their teen-specific outreaches are called the Power Back program and it centers around peer leadership, group therapy and open conversation. 

Jesse Craft, who works for the organization, was very excited to be at the mental health fair because “talking directly to the students is the most important thing that we as an organization can do because we’re meeting the problem at the source.”

Yoga on the lawn (Photo by Izzy Kofsky)

Another important issue that potentially affects WHS students is disordered eating. Lauren Berstein, a registered dietitian at The Nutrition Center, said that the goal is to “provide nutrient counseling and how to find the balance and what works for you and your body.” The Nutrient Center is a private practice that provides nutrition counseling for disordered and emotional eating. 

Gambling is a kind of addiction affecting students that they may not even consider a mental health issue. The Council on Compulsive Gambling of NJ were represented at a table during the fair and offered information about their hotline service, counseling options and other prevention measures.

Prevention Specialist Joe Kane said, “Parents sometimes don’t mind that their kids are gambling because they think it’s a better alternative to drinking or drugs, but it’s not about the monetary amount. It’s about the emotional high that is similar to a drug high.” 

Overall, students felt that the school was well-intentioned in holding the fair. Sophomore Jillian Almendral expressed that she liked the fair because “it is paying more immediate attention to mental health.” 

An anonymous freshman agreed, saying that “it shows that the school cares about mental health issues.” Sophomore Sarah Attia enjoyed the fair, saying “It’s really fun and a great opportunity to escape the stress of the end of the year.”

Many students and staff hope to continue doing events like this. Almendral said the school could hold similar events in the future or add break days into the calendar that everyone can take part in. 

Principal Mary Asfendis said, “It’s a good opportunity for the school to organize more in-school events with these different organizations. Hopefully students will take the next step and reach out [to these organizations] on their own to ask for help.”