With the ultimate goal of ending the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, students at Silva Health Magnet High School spent the day speaking with experts about this timely topic during the first Mental Health Symposium.

More than 1,000 students rotated through the presentation and workshops throughout the day, learning about mental health topics ranging from anxiety, depression, eating disorders, stress and the impact of mental health on teens and the LGBTQ community.

“This is the seniors’ big end-of-the-year project. Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, we decided to do this Mental Health Symposium,” teacher Denise Galvez said. “The students identified that there needs to be more mental health awareness. They feel like they need more access to information and services.”

Students heard from speakers on mental health topics ranging from depression, stress, eating disorders, self-esteem and more. Community agencies were on hand to provide information to students about their services.

“I hope it’s a life changing experience for our students. “The kids themselves tell me, ‘We need help learning how to cope with stress,’” she said. “So, we wanted to provide with resources and information.”

Galvez hopes the symposium will help students take a more proactive stance on mental health.

“We need to talk about mental health and be in tune with what’s going on in the health community,” Galvez said. “Being a registered nurse, I am always keeping up with the latest research and the latest recommendation is that any child 12 or older should be assessed for depression.”

Silva seniors organized several different breakout sessions to engage students with fun activities but also important mental health information and coping strategies. Sessions included art and music therapy, meditation and physical activities, among others.

“We have been working on this for a few months because we wanted to make a big impact because this is something we don’t really talk about as a society, especially in schools,” senior Miriam Abuissa said. “It’s something students tend to be ashamed of. We wanted to shed light on it and say it’s okay to talk about it.”

Abuissa has noticed there is also a cultural component perpetuating mental health stigmas.

“I come from a Hispanic family that when you feel a certain way, they just say ‘you’ll get over it.’ That’s something we need to overcome,” she said. “It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to talk about how you feel and ask for help. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Sophomore Pablo Marquez participated in a team-building session. Students stood on two narrow boards in groups of four, using the attached ropes to walk across the courtyard and pop a balloon. The activity drew lots of laughs but also helped students focus on communicating and working as a team.

“It’s important to show students different ways to express themselves and find ways to relieve stress,” he said. “I think it is a good idea to show that mental health is real and something we need to talk about. Mental health is just as important as your physical health.”

The symposiumwas held on Monday, May 21st.

Story and photos by Alicia Chumley – EPISD