The buses driving to school are normally bursting with sleepy students dressed in hoodie and jeans, but on Jan. 10, everyone trailed out of the bus one-by-one with onesies, fuzzy socks and baggy t-shirts. That Wednesday was Pajama Day, and to emphasize the importance of a good night’s rest, the TJ Minds Matter club encouraged the school to dress in pajamas. On other days of the week, the club would encourage the school to do other activities to promote a certain topic of mental wellness. From Jan. 9-13, the TJ Minds Matter club (formerly Active Minds) hosted a Mental Wellness week where activities ranged from meditating and dancing to sending students motivational messages. Each day of the week, Mental Wellness Week would target a specific issue on mental health, and present it in an informative and engaging way.
“As a club, our number one goal for this week is to spread awareness on how mental health is something we need to prioritize while sharing helpful strategies and techniques people can implement in their daily lives.” co-president Rahul Batra said.
For example, on Monday, to encourage a hearty breakfast, the PTSA laid out tables of fruits and granola bars for the students. On Wednesday, Just Dance was set up in the Nobel Commons during lunch to get everyone exercising to increase health and activity.
“[For Just Dance], we show how exercise, which has been proven to reduce stress and improve one’s mental health, can also be a quick activity easy to fit into one’s schedule,” Batra said. “It helps get rid of the stigma people can’t find time or ways to exercise and it introduces an outlet to relieve stress and other harmful feelings.”
“I think it was really a good stress reliever — I don’t normally have time for much exercise, but Just Dance just gave me a chance to get active and have fun, which is unusual for me,” freshman Ankita Vadiala said. “I remember going home active and just as peppy as before, ready and motivated to do my homework without having to drag myself to stop falling asleep. I think it would help everyone to continue that.”
Most of the student body enjoy taking a week off from school to learn about taking care of themselves mentally and physically.
“I think that the fact that there is a week called ‘Mental Wellness Week’ is wonderful and really gets people to take a moment and think about mental health when they realize that the week is taking place.” senior Max Wall Pabilonia said.
However, even though Pabilonia acknowledges the efforts done so far, she believes there should be more of a push on the school’s part to increase continual support for mental wellness.
“I see mental wellness week as an effort to raise awareness on how perfectly healthy people can stay that way. I think that’s a great idea…but one activity in a year probably isn’t going to make a difference,” Pabilonia said. “Plus there are people who are struggling with mental illness, and I think mental wellness week kind of excludes those people by talking about mental wellness while avoiding mental illness.”
Still, some of the student body believe Mental Wellness Week should also better target mental illness, a common problem stemming from the competitive nature of high school.
“I believe [Mental Wellness Week] tackles what everyone strives to have – taking care of ourselves the same way we do with our bodies, and this is truly a good thing,” senior Nora Thompson said. “However, it is my hope that the aim is better emphasized in the future, for at times it can feel as though I am being told I could cure my mental illness by sleeping or exercising, an idea that is simply not true.”
These people feel that the effects of Mental Wellness Week are short term and that they don’t tackle the underlying issues of mental illness.
“I actually read that about 1 in 5 of the people at TJ suffer from depression,” Pabilonia said. “Also, depression is not the only mental illness we should be talking about when raising awareness. There are people in our community with bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia…but none of that seems to be mentioned during mental wellness week. If you walked a mile in my shoes during mental wellness week, you would [see] that it feels like a very temporary effort, [as well as] not doing much about mental illness, a real problem at TJ.”
Some of the student body visualize a more effective Mental Wellness Week if it tackled the topic of mental illness.
“[If the creators would], I think a shift to discussing mental illness would be extremely powerful, but if this is the angle, events would need to be less giving out food and more teaching about symptoms and how to get help without shying away from the real but difficult details.” Thompson said.
However, any idea suggested may have already been attempted to be incorporated into Mental Wellness Week.The TJ Mind Matters club hosts Mental Wellness Week every year, and throughout those years, TJ Mind Matters has experimented with different methods to approaching the real and difficult issue of mental health, as well as various ways of getting the student body involved. Finding an equilibrium between mental wellness and illness, as well as between seriousness and lightness, is an equilibrium hard to achieve.
“While we can make activities more serious, [like a] presentation on why mental health and mental illness can affect anyone, as a club and from past experience we’ve found that having a balance is the most effective way to improve our community.” Batra said.
For example, TJ Mind Matters found bringing in speakers who specialized in the topic to have more of an effect on students.
“We hosted more serious activities this year that focused on teaching students how to handle stress, how to advocate for themselves, and how to listen to others.” co-president Anusha Balani said. “Something we accomplished last year that we hope to do again this year was bring speakers from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to talk to students and adults. The volunteers talked during a few periods as well as during eighth period about their stories.”
In the future, TJ Mind Matters strives to include a focus on mental illness during subsequent Mental Wellness Weeks.
“Along with promoting mental wellness in our communities, our club is focused on removing the negative stigma around talking about mental illnesses – changing the culture about how we view mental illnesses,”Balani said. “We’ve made a website with motivational videos, blog posts, people to talk to, and, most importantly, resources.”