Ella Baderman and Judy Zakieh are part of a small group of Hinsdale Central seniors who believed that panel discussions for sophomores in health class weren’t enough to help all Central students deal with depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health issues.
But rather than remain frustrated or get angry about it, they helped create a new student club, Strong Minds Bring Change, to start an ongoing effort to help students in need.
“Our group was a panel that wanted to keep it going,” Baderman said. “We knew if we became official, with a club approved by the school, we could do so much more.”
The goal is to reach out to more students, not just sophomores, to promote health and well being, said Teri Marshall, a Central guidance counselor who is the club sponsor.
“It’s about breaking the stigma of mental illness,” Marshall said. “There’s a real need for this because a lot of students have anxiety, but they are scared to talk about it because they don’t want anyone finding out.”
“It’s a very high stress environment at Central,” she said. “It’s all about where you’re going to college, and it’s really hard to see the stress that causes for a lot of students because kids don’t talk about it. There’s this attitude that if you live here and go to school here you should be able to deal with it.”
Students have been leading the panel discussions about teen depression in sophomore health classes for five years, using some of the curriculum from Erika’s Lighthouse, a foundation started about 15 years ago.
That Winnetka-based group’s mission is to make sure no child feels alone in their depression, according to its website.
Erika’s Lighthouse is dedicated to creating a community of empathy and education. The group creates teen depression awareness programs for middle schools and high schools so educators and teens can create safe spaces to learn about depression, letting students know they are never alone, and there is somewhere to turn.
“We are kind of using that and branching out from there because it’s not just about dealing with depression for us, it’s about different types of mental health issues” Zakieh said. “Mental health importance is underrated.”
Strong Minds Bring Change has 16 members and plans to meet monthly, although the group has met more often since its beginning in November.
Club members sold 176 “kindnessgrams” in two days for 25 cents each before delivering them Nov. 13 for its first activity.
“It was a way for someone to write something nice on a blank note card to a friend or teacher for us to deliver,” Baderman said.
The club has additional plans for during final exams at Central Dec. 18-20.
“We want to add some things for finals that help with stress reduction,” Baderman said. “We’re going to put up posters and have Christmas cards.”
Zakieh said the club also hopes to team up with the school’s social work department for something a little different.
“It’s called ‘toilet times,’’’ something students can read in the bathroom about how to deal with stress and ways to take care of themselves,” she said.
Both Zakieh and Baderman are confident that Strong Minds Bring Change will continue after they graduate in the spring.
“It’s important for students to pave the way for other students in the future,” Zakieh said. “Students don’t always listen to adults, so students working together can help.”