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Piedmont High students ‘Break the Silence’ on mental health

Micah Fagala Suicide and suicide attempts are serious public health problems that transcend genders, ethnicities and area codes.

Yet, far too often teens find themselves struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety in silence because of pervasive stigmas and long-held misconceptions attached to mental health issues.

“At the time, I felt like I was all alone and I remember thinking that I can’t be the only one going through this,” Piedmont High senior Micah Fagala said. “So I wanted to create a space where people can’t be alone and we can talk and be open about it. There are more people going through this than you can imagine.”

With the support of her family, Piedmont High school leaders and the district’s Student Support Office, Micah created that safe space at her school: the Piedmont High Break the Silence Club.

Under the guidance of school counselors and club sponsors, Break the Silence is a student-led club that aims to remove stigmas associated with mental health. Club members also educate their peers and faculty on detecting suicide warning signs and how to recognize when a student may be going through their own bout with depression or anxiety.

When Micah introduced the club to the student body, she wasn’t entirely sure how many students would want to be a part of it. After all, she said, it’s a really hard topic to talk and hear about.

However, to Micah’s surprise, as many as 20 students packed into Break the Silence’s interest meeting and shared their own stories about why the club is so important and needed. At the second meeting, local nonprofit Heart for Monroe shared information about their organization’s mental health resources with club members.

Social and emotional learning, and providing equitable access to critical mental health resources, has been a priority across the district this school year.

In addition to hiring additional school social workers, mental health therapists and school counselors in each of the district’s nine clusters, more than 200 UCPS support staff members will also receive specific training in suicide intervention protocols by the end of the school year.

But what is unique about this club, Piedmont High counselor Joanna Ellis said, is that it gives students an opportunity to also join and lead conversations about social and emotional health at the school level.

“Micah just wants to make a change and she felt strongly that this is a way to do that. Sometimes it has to come from the students,” Joanna added. “As staff, we try so hard to do things -- and the students see it and hear us -- but sometimes it’s not until one of them takes on the responsibility to start a conversation that their peers start to see things in a different way.”

In the coming months, Micah said she’s excited to see the club grow in both the school and community.

In fact, community organizations, such as the Union County System of Care Collaborative Partners, have already been involved with the club. The students are also making plans to host a mental health awareness community fair in April with the community's support.

“I want this to keep going and be here for years to come. I know the topic can be hard for people to talk about, but I feel like it’s necessary for students to do this,” she said. “I’d love to have this club be a model and grow to other schools and school districts. I don’t want it to just be here. I want it to be everywhere.”

If you know a student who is in crisis or in need of help, please contact their school's counselor or school social worker.

Posted: March 11, 2019