Mental Health in High School: Roundup of Clubs on Campus

Mental health issues in adolescents are ever-increasing. According to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, more than 30% of high school students around the U.S. reported “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” in 2017. More than 17% have seriously considered suicide. And more than 13% have even made a plan.

These numbers have been rising since 2007.

Some students are using their time and energy to try and put a stop to these statistics. Aware of the power peers can have on each other—both positive or negative—more and more teens are forming clubs and campaigns in high school to combat the stigma associated with issues like depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, OCD, and more.

Check out the following mental health clubs teens are forming (and participating in), and see if you want to create your own!

Bring Change to Mind: BC2M

“Bring Change to Mind” (or BC2M) is a student-led club in many high schools throughout California and the country. Founded in 2010, its mission is to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. While the BC2M parent organization is led by adults in LA, each of its high school branches—the clubs—are led by teen advisors themselves.

In BC2M clubs, teen members lead activities centering around mental health in order to open up candid conversations. Peers meet weekly or biweekly to discuss mental health topics and participate in activities promoting wellness. For example, one popular activity, called Little Worries, club members anonymously jotting down something they’ve been stressing out about throughout the last week, and then displaying all the Post-It notes on the wall. Peers see that they’re not alone in their struggles.

While other organizations simply seek on raising awareness, BC2M focuses on actively getting help: As part of the BC2M guidelines, any club member who shares a mental health concern is immediately given a referral to a mental health professional.

One BC2M member, 17-year-old Bryn, says she started a BC2M club at her high school in response to several shocking teen suicides in her Palo Alto community. “I really just wanted to create change,” she said in BC2M’s 2016 video.

If you want to start a BC2M club in your school, know that you’ll be backed all the way. BC2M gives you a guidebook with discussion topics, marketing materials (see the creative ad to the left), a $500 grant for related activities, and assistance with bringing mental health training and speakers to your school.

Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness Program

In 2009, the University of Michigan Depression Center and Ann Arbor Public Schools collaborated on a unique mental health awareness program. Their strategy: empower students so they can empower schools. Their campaign was called Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Depression Awareness Program. Last year, 12 high schools around Michigan participated.

How does it work? Every year, participating high schools nominate individual students (or groups of students) to attend an annual mental-health training at the University of Michigan. There, clinical psychologists and professors train the high school students on signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Clinicians also teach them mindfulness strategies. The goal? Educate the students so they can then educate their peers.

After the 6-hour training, students then brainstorm ideas for creating mental-health awareness campaigns in their individual schools. They work together with their individual faculty mentors, and then return back to school to put their proposed P2P plans into action.

High school students attending the annual P2P depression awareness training at the University of Michigan.

During the 2017-18 school year, more than a hundred students from 12 high schools in Michigan attended the training. After the training, each group of students developed their own mental health awareness campaign at their school. Some of the campaigns focused on positive wellness and prevention, others focused on removing the stigma around mental illnesses, and still others encouraged seeking help when in emotional distress (“When I becomes We, Illness Becomes Wellness”). Students hand out swag, screen films related to mental health, hold dance parties, give out stress balls and hot cocoa during finals, and more.

Erika’s Lighthouse, Our Minds Matter

There are other clubs geared toward high schoolers.

Based out of Illinois, Erika’s Lighthouse focuses on depression. It aims to help high school students use their voices to “Get Depression Out of the Dark. To that end, this nonprofit helps teens organize depression awareness campaigns and wellness activities. Think: poster campaigns, writing holiday cards, care packages during finals week, and skate-a-thons. Erika’s Lighthouse HQ provides the money and the ideas, the teens carry them out in their individual clubs.

Erika’s Lighthouse also provides schools all over the country with free access to educational programming about mental health, including lesson plans, discussion guides, and activity materials, such as their popular “student check-in” cards, which ask students whether they want to see a counselor, don’t want to see a counselor, or need to see a counselor immediately. Teachers give out the cards at the end of class, and all students are required to fill them out. This way, no one’s singled out.

On the East Coast, there’s also the popular “Our Minds Matter” club, founded by the Josh Anderson Foundation (a suicide-prevention nonprofit). The goal of an Our Minds Matter clubs is to teach students that not only is it okay to get help when you’re struggling, but you need to. Our Minds Matter also emphasizes healthy self-care and social connections.  The club provides the resources and funds to create three student-led activities per month.

NAMI

Wherever you are in the States, you can start a NAMI on Campus club.  NAMI clubs are open to students with mental health conditions, those with family members who have such conditions, or high school students who are just advocates of mental health. The goal of NAMI clubs is to create an inclusive, safe, and supportive school environment.  NAMI has branches all over the country, so contact your local branch if you’re interested in getting involved.

Do These Clubs Really Create Change?

T-shirts, wristbands, posters, swag, care packages: do these things really affect high schoolers’ mental health?  If the research from clubs like Bring Change to Mind and Peer-to-Peer are any indication, then yes.

Researchers from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco collaborated on an internal study to measure whether BC2M-High School clubs were really making an impact on its members. Over 700 students in schools with active BC2M clubs participated in the study. The researchers found that as the result of participating in these clubs, high school students experienced significant reductions in previously held mental health stigma.

Apparently, P2P is working too. University of Michigan researchers found that the P2P program positively affected both the P2P team leaders and their peers at school:

“The P2P team leaders showed statistically significant improvement in their confidence in identifying and helping others with depression and in their comfort speaking with their peers about mental health issues. Students exposed to the depression campaigns showed an increase in the likelihood that they would ask for help if they had symptoms of depression for more than two weeks and significant decrease in embarrassment about being seen going to the school social worker or psychologist’s office.”

In Conclusion

Student-led clubs are a great way to get your school thinking about mental health. Not only will you get leadership experience and educate yourself on depression, anxiety, suicide, and more, you will open up the conversation and normalize what many of your friends might be struggling with on a daily basis.  If just one classmate gets the courage to seek help because of your awareness campaign, it’s worth the effort.