Berkeley High students propose student-led mental health education program for freshmen

Cherry Wu/Staff

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In response to survey results that pointed to inadequate mental health resources for Berkeley High School students, the city of Berkeley’s Youth Commission proposed a peer mental health education program to the Berkeley Unified School District board and City Council earlier this year.

If approved, the proposed program, known as the Mental and Emotional Education Team, or MEET, will bring a two-day presentation on mental health resources and services to all Berkeley High freshmen each spring. The presenters will comprise 10 to 15 trained Berkeley High student leaders.

The program has already received support from Mayor Jesse Arreguín, the Berkeley Mental Health Department and the Berkeley Mental Health Commission, according to Abigail Steckel, vice chair of the Berkeley Youth Commission and a Berkeley High student.

“I’ve seen several students who seemed to be dealing with mental health struggles but not getting help,” Steckel said in an email. “I hope MEET will help those students recognize what they are going through and seek support.”

Although the Youth Commission was already aware of the need for increased mental health resources, the need for structural changes was solidified by a survey of 250 Berkeley High students conducted earlier this year, Steckel said. The results revealed that approximately 60 percent of students surveyed struggled with mental health issues, of which 58 percent said they hadn’t accessed care to address these concerns.

Former youth commissioner Ruby Spies, who was largely involved with the early development and drafting of the program, emphasized the need for increased dialogue about mental health, citing a lack of resources and services available to students as well as her own experiences.

“My middle school years are where I primarily struggled with mental health issues,” Spies said. “I went into a deep depressive episode in the eighth grade. I never received any type of education on what these things were. I couldn’t say anything about it, and nobody ever taught me how to ask for help.”

Uma Nagarajan-Swenson, a student director on the BUSD board, also said she thinks the implementation of a peer mental health education program would be helpful, adding that many of her friends have struggled with depression and anxiety.

She said she was concerned, however, about the funding that would make this program possible.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that although the city was not ready to fund MEET when it was first proposed, it may now be able to partially fund the program. Worthington added that as more people become familiar with the Youth Commission’s work, funding will become more readily available.

On Nov. 15, the Youth Commission will present its proposal to the BUSD board again and await further deliberation on the possibility of funding for MEET.

“Regardless of whether a student has a mental illness or not, everyone can benefit from a program that provides this type of education,” Spies said.

Contact Naira Khalid at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @nairakhalid.