Since FUSD transitioned to distance learning last spring, the MSJ Mental Health Committee (MHC) has been broadening the extent of its outreach and awareness campaigns to provide students with mental health resources throughout quarantine.
To promote mental health awareness within the student body, teachers from MSJ’s English Department assisted the MHC by presenting the MHC’s annual Mental Health Panel in video form to students during the first weeks of March. The committee adapted the panel during distance learning by presenting a pre-recorded video instead of the usual live panel that took place in C120 in previous years.
This year, the event featured five panelists including a mix of current and former students as well as a mental health professional. The Mental Health Panel is one of the committee’s main initiatives to raise awareness of mental health issues and provide students with helpful resources.
“With this panel, we felt like it was more important than ever to have a safe place to discuss these issues. And in light of all of the microaggressions panels and the other events this summer, we really wanted to include a bunch of alumni perspectives as well,” MHC Member Junior Megh Basu said.
Because the MHC could not host their event in person due to COVID-19 restrictions, students were unable to ask live questions to the panelists. Instead, the MHC drafted a list of frequently asked questions for the speakers. “If our next Mental Health Panel is virtual again, I would like for it to be over Zoom as a livestream rather than a pre-made video because I think that having audience interaction and allowing speakers to answer questions directly from the audience would be better,” MHC Member Junior Stanley Luo said.
To improve their next panel, the MHC solicited student feedback and advice by encouraging students to fill out their Mental Health Panel Feedback Form, which received 784 responses as of March 19.
Aside from the annual panel, the MHC is working on several other initiatives to improve the student body’s awareness of mental health issues. On March 13, the MHC rolled out their newly-developed MSJ High School MHC self-help app, which they began working on in June 2020 in an effort to make their resources more accessible to students during distance learning. Available on the Apple App Store and Google Play, the app gives students access to MSJ counselors’ school contact information, mental health-related hotlines, and a calendar of the MHC’s upcoming events.
Over the course of two months in the summer, MHC Member Senior Saumya Chauhan worked as the lead programmer on the app and coded several interactive features, such as a quote of the day and a calendar for upcoming mental health-related events on campus. “We just wanted a way to advertise mental health resources because of how hard it is mentally for a lot of people during a time when they’re so isolated from their communities,” Chauhan said. Through the app, students who struggle with mental illnesses or eating disorders and students who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community can access hotlines and documents from the MHC and can submit feedback through an anonymous form.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the MHC is continuing to advocate for students’ mental health through ongoing initiatives such as social media campaigns and an on-site Wellness Center.
Funded in part by the Mission Possible Parents and Faculty Association, the Wellness Center will function as a safe space for students to relax and destress during breaks while having the opportunity to speak with qualified mental health professionals. Currently, the MHC is collaborating with the district to purchase furniture and decorations for the Wellness Center, which will be located in former classroom C2, and hopes to unveil the Center shortly after FUSD returns to in-person learning.
With smaller initiatives such as Quarantine Vlogs from last spring, which featured MHC members talking about their daily lives and coping mechanisms during shelter-in-place, and their Christmastime 12 Days of Self-Care posts, which highlighted ways to destress and relax for students, committee members also hope to boost morale among the student body. With the fourth school quarter soon approaching, they also hope to begin the process of recruiting new members for the 2021-22 school year later in the spring.
“I think it’s really important to keep talking about mental health, [and] even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just getting that reminder that there are other people going through something similar to what you’re going through right now and that there is light at the end of the tunnel is important to us,” MHC Member Junior Aditi Morumganti said.
Cover image by News Editor Alina Zeng