By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Silence can be soothing – but not if it allows warning signs and the stigma surrounding mental health issues to go unnoticed.
Bowling Green Middle School counselors Debra Ondrus and Alyssa Santacroce presented a program to the board of education Tuesday evening about “Ending the Silence at BGMS.”
The school partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Wood County to focus on emotional and mental health. National statistics show that one in five Americans suffer from mental health issues, Santacroce said. For students, those problems can affect their academics and daily lives.
Bowling Green Middle School is the first school in Wood County to work with NAMI to offer this for students, Ondrus said.
Staff and students worked together to recognize the signs of mental health problems. Through the program, they tackled the topics of:
- Decreasing the stigma
- Identifying warning signs
- Finding positive coping skills
- Treating the problem
- Recognizing signs of suicide
Students not only talked about how to help themselves, but also how to help others who are suffering.
“I was amazed,” Ondrus said of the ideas students came up with to help others. One student vowed to stop calling other people “crazy.” Another wanted to start reaching out to those in obvious distress.
The students learned that mental illness is not a life sentence, Ondrus said. “Just like a physical illness, mental illness is treatable.”
One area that Santacroce and Ondrus found especially lacking was the area of positive coping techniques. When students were asked to identify how they cope with life stresses, their answers primarily focused on playing video games, watching TV or using their cell phones.
Students were given ideas of other stress relievers, given information on area resources and were reassured, “there is help,” Ondrus said.
A video called “If we all speak loud enough,” stressed that mental illness needs to be talked about in the open.
To understand the impact of the “Ending the Silence” program, all the students were given pre- and post-tests with questions about identifying signs of problems, how to help themselves, and being comfortable talking about mental health. The post-program tests show significant positive changes.
Eighty-five percent of the students said they had learned something new. “Which is great. These are life lessons,” Santacroce said.
Twenty-four students filled out referrals forms either for themselves or for their friends who they are concerned about. Those students are being reached out to by staff. “I’m really glad kids shared with us,” Santacroce.
Though the topic is uncomfortable, Ondrus stressed the importance of getting it out in the open.
“Knowledge is power,” she said.
In an effort to offer more coping options for students, a “Why Not Wednesday” program is scheduled each week after school. Students do activities like hula-hooping, zumba, and participate in an “escape” room. Yoga and healthy relationship groups are also being planned.
Ondrus explained the high school already has a “Signs of Suicide” program and the elementaries are looking for an age-appropriate mental health program.
In other business at the board of education meeting:
- Winners in the Safety Kids Calendar Contest were recognized, including Whitney Bechstein, middle school; Isa Wan, Crim Elementary; Claire Rieman and Charlotte Grillot, both of Conneaut Elementary.
- Superintendent Francis Scruci reported his “coffee chats” have resumed, with a schedule available on the school district website.
- Scruci reminded that the school foundation’s annual fundraiser, Trivia Night, will be held Feb. 10.
- With January being board appreciation month, the board of education was recognized by Scruci. “You have to make a lot of tough decisions,” he said. “Districts are made or broken by the leadership on the board.”