The Importance of Being AWARE

Michelle Mirza, Editorials/Two Cents & That's Rad Editor

Dealing with emotions sucks. Majority of the people we come across everyday don’t like confronting topics that have any substance because it’s hard. It’s hard venturing out of the safe environment that is your comfort zone. It’s hard to escape that stagnant barrier that guards you from ever being vulnerable to anything that can shatter you, that can threaten your emotional well-being. However, this year a new tradition has been introduced to the halls of Keller High, coaxing us out of our secure cubby hole of comfort, and forcing us to confront an issue that many are guilty of steering clear of: mental health.

Although the official Mental Illness Awareness Week was in October, our school has taken the initiative and administered our own week – one that honors and recognizes the topic of mental health and offers support for those struggling. In an effort to raise money for the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses (NAMI), t-shirts were sold as well and all proceeds went to the charity. Each day of AWARE (Accepting, Welcoming, Assisting, Recognizing, and Educating) Week served as a specific theme that dealt with mental health and building up those around us. These days included:

Mirrorless Monday – Focused on promoting self-esteem, all hands were on deck, producing a wall plastered with positive sticky notes under the school’s main staircase – drawing in and encouraging students to take a sticky note if needed, and to leave a positive note for someone else. Mirrors in the bathrooms were also covered in black sheets of paper and scattered with positive notes, pushing students to look beyond what’s on the surface. As a society that is plagued with a constant obsession with outer beauty and the ‘perfect’ body and being good enough for that and meeting the standards for this, it was refreshing to be able to take a step back and just be. The presence of universal kindness was overwhelmingly heartwarming, and alleviated the negativity that has become associated with Mondays.

Cultural Awareness Tuesday – Shining a light on other cultures, this day gave an opportunity for students to take a moment and appreciate the many cultures not just in our own community, but around the world as well. Through a potluck held after school, the atmosphere was filled with positively conscious students, recognizing the importance of acknowledging others’ cultures and upbringings.

Depression Awareness Wednesday – 1 in 5 teenagers struggle with clinical depression. Bringing this heartbreaking reality to attention, the Student Council worked together to emphasize our school’s safe environment, encouraging anyone struggling to not hesitate in asking for help. In a world where it seems taboo to not be 100% sunshine and smiles, it was comforting to know that a hand was there outreached and ready for anyone who needed it. Addressing the fact that it is okay not be okay once in awhile served as a great turning point for the week. Two therapy dogs also paid a visit during lunches and stole the hearts of many, leaving the school in high spirits.

Stand Up, Speak Out Thursday –  Walking into school on this day, all attention was brought to the walls of our hallways. Posters that included numbers for hotlines available for people who are dealing with things ranging from eating disorders to suicidal thoughts, were placed sporadically around the school. Many people tend to shy away from speaking out for a number of topics that matter; however, above all these, standing up and speaking out about mental illnesses seems to be the most rare occurrence within our community. By providing these posters, students were forced to acknowledge the many ways they can help, and were urged to take the first step in awareness: discussion.

Feel Good Friday – To end the week on a positive note, Feel Good Friday was focused on our emotions and how it is necessary to acknowledge not only the good ones but the bad ones as well. Pixar’s light-hearted animated movie Inside Out was played during all lunches, giving students a chance to sit back and not only enjoy a nostalgic environment with a happy childhood-esque film but also a chance for us students to recognize that it is okay to have a whole range of emotions, that it is okay to feel. Emotions are meant to be messy and confusing and overwhelmingly good or bad. This last day of AWARE Week served as a reminder to accept and come to terms with not just our emotions, but with ourselves as well.

AWARE Week was not meant to be a cure-all for those dealing with mental illnesses. The issue of many still not wanting to talk about the importance of mental health continues to be very real; however, as a school we recognized it. We took the first step and we talked about it – but this is far from the end of it. I encourage everyone to continue talking about it. Break through that barrier, get out of your comfort zone, shut down the stigmas, remember to be kind to yourselves and others, and stand up for those who can’t right now – become AWARE.