RENSSELAER, N.Y. (NEWS10) — May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This week specifically focuses on mental health in children. After a unique and challenging year, a local school district is taking this time to make sure their students have all the support and resources they need.
The last 12 months have impacted all of us, but they have been particularly distressing for people who already struggle with mental health, and for young people who may have felt they missed out on rites of passage or time with their friends. Rensselaer City School District wants their students to know they understand. Their motto this week is “you are not alone.”
“That’s the theme of this children’s mental health week,” said Heather Staszak, School Social Worker at Rensselaer, “that there’s always someone there for you. We don’t want you to suffer in silence.”
The district created a website specifically for their students with resources on a number of topics like anxiety, stress, ADHD, addiction, and cyber bullying. Each day during the week highlights a different activity to punctuate an area of mental health.
Tuesday, students can participate in a photography contest based on the “you are not alone” theme. Their task is to submit a photo reflecting on how they celebrate positive mental well being during these challenging times. A winner will be selected from each grade and awarded a prize.
“Thursday we’re all going to wear our green masks for awareness,” said Staszack. “What we’re also trying to teach the kids is to be kind.”
This week is made possible by a five-year federal grant, which allows the district to bring “Project Aware” to their students. It’s a program designed to bring awareness to mental health issues and connect students with services.
The grant also funds a part-time social media mental health specialist at the school. Superintendent Joseph Kardash says this is a critical preventative measure, as kids have been spending more time using technology recently.
“As we all know, with mental health, if you can get ahead of it, you can lessen the impact severely,” said Kardash. “We are trying to make sure students have a positive view of how social media can impact them.”