Mental Health Teach-In 2024

Mental Health Teach-In 2024
Dani Seiss

GDS held its annual Student Mental Health Teach-In Day at the High School in early January. Facilitated by students and the GDS Health and Wellness Team, the day-long event included keynote speakers, panel discussions, and a wide variety of workshops and activities led by faculty members, GDS alumni, and outside specialists. 

High School Counselor Gabrielle Holder explained that the Mental Health Teach-in was “designed to help raise awareness, educate, and provide strategies for dealing with mental health concerns, while also fostering a space where students could discuss mental health openly,”--particularly important given the current state of youth mental health in the U.S. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitors mental health and substance abuse through the Youth Mental Health Survey, a poll of high school students collected every two years since 2011. According to the most recent report, (from 2021): 42% “experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness,” up from 28% in 2011. And 22% “seriously considered attempting suicide,” up from 16% in 2011. While the 2021 data might reflect some of the most difficult months of the pandemic, the trends were apparent before 2021.

Ayesha Delany-Brumsey '01 fields questions from high school students.

The morning opened with keynote speaker Ayesha Delany-Brumsey, ’01—a GDS alum, now a Strategic Growth Officer at Fountain House, a national nonprofit headquartered in New York that was created by and for people living with serious mental illness.To an attentive student audience, she spoke of her own mental health experiences, talked about her time at GDS, and shared facts about the state of mental health in the country, the lack of quality treatment for those who are incarcerated, steps that law enforcement is taking to respond to mental health-related emergencies, and how other countries approach treatment. 

“I loved the speaker we had for the [morning] assembly,” said Kesi McDuffie ’25. “She had excellent advice for us, considering she used to go to GDS, and her job was also fascinating. The workshops were engaging as well.”                                                                                    

Workshops ranged from the simple to the complex, from cookie baking, making guacamole, yoga, journaling, and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skills, to sports psychology, pet therapy, medication, and deep conversations about mental illnesses.

Both students and faculty attended the workshops and panel discussions.                                                                                                                          

“I enjoyed the sessions, particularly GDS Alum, Zak Sandler ’04, who did a musical rendition of his struggles with bipolar disorder,” said Susan Ikenberry, High School history teacher, “The students were captivated! And I think knowing about the experiences of these symptoms will help them.”                                                                                                                                       

Christopher Paul, offensive guard for the Washington Commanders NFL football team and mental health advocate.

In the afternoon, GDS welcomed its second keynote speaker, Christopher Paul, offensive guard for the Washington Commanders NFL football team and mental health advocate. Chris holds an ambassadorship with the nonprofit Athletes for Hope (AFH), through which he strives to increase awareness and access to mental health resources. At the teach-in, Chris addressed the topics of toxic masculinity and black male mental health and wellness. 

“I served as a moderator for the speaker event with Chris Paul,” said Koen Yu ’25, “It was really fun being able to meet a professional athlete and have him come talk to the student body on the importance of mental health and the need for more conversations surrounding the topic.”

Fellow junior Daniel Reilly ‘25 added: “The speakers were amazing, especially Chris Paul, who I think, as a super ‘masculine’ man, did a great job at showing how not just all men but even pro athletes who always have a spotlight on them can be vulnerable, and talk about their mental health, which I think shows a great first step in the progress of our society and hopefully encourages more men to be open about their mental health.”

“I personally found the strategies used for stress and anxiety during sports to be extremely helpful and I have used them recently during my practices and they work great,” said junior Shiraz Benyoucef ‘25 who attended the workshop “Using Sports Psychology Tools to Improve Athletic Performance.” The workshop was conducted by Jessica Gottlieb, a therapist and school counselor with a practice headquartered in Bethesda. 

The day’s events wrapped up with a game of dodgeball. “The tournament at the end was awesome,” said Daniel,  “Because it was just a great change of pace and stress reliever from our otherwise hectic and busy days.”

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Mental Health Teach-In 2024
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