Everyone faces stressors in life, especially in high school. Things like forgetting to do a school assignment, being late for work, having a messy room or an argument with a family member can build up and contribute to what’s going on in your body and your mind. You might start to put yourself down, take out your frustration on yourself or others, feel less motivated in school or at work, or respond rudely to your family and friends when things feel like they aren’t going your way.
Throughout my life, I have had trouble with my mental health. I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and have seen therapists to learn how to cope with my symptoms. I have always responded to stress by shutting down and completely isolating myself. I’ve always kept my feelings bottled up inside and this has always made them worse. It’s not an effective coping mechanism, but is a common one.
When we first started the teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) training, I didn’t think it would help me at all. However, I was surprised by how much I learned about taking care of my own mental health, being kind to those around me, supporting my friends through rough patches and how to potentially save a life.
During the training, we talked a lot about self-care, self-love, and how to take care of and protect our own mental health. This part of the training taught me that it’s so important to not let your mental health get ahead of you, to have healthy coping mechanisms in place and take care of your mental health every single day. If you don’t, your sleep schedule, immune system and overall mindset can be impacted. Instead of shutting down and isolating yourself during difficult times, you should go do things that you love and find ways to take care of your body and mind in a healthy way. For me, that is now talking with my therapist, driving around while listening to music, eating my favorite foods, spending time with my friends and cuddling my dog.
tMHFA also helped me realize that a close friend was acting differently. I noticed the signs and symptoms: She didn’t want to hang out as much as usual, was very curt when talking, and was sometimes rude to my other friends and me. I used what I learned in tMHFA to approach her kindly and see how she was feeling. I asked if something was bothering her, and told her I was there to listen. She opened up and told me she was having problems with her boyfriend. I listened to her, provided reassurance as her friend, and offered support. I told her that I would always be here to support her through whatever decision she made.
This program has truly opened my eyes. It has had a great impact on me and helped me take care of my own mental health and build a support system around myself. Because of this program, I know I can go to teachers, friends, parents and others for support. I also know that I can help my friends and peers with their mental health.
I believe that every school in the U.S. should offer tMHFA. It is an important reminder that it’s OK to not be OK, and you don’t have to be scared to ask for help. It can truly go a long way in helping teens take care of their own mental health, teaching them how to support their friends and peers in need, and saving lives.
Your school or youth-serving organization can bring tMHFA training to the teens in your community. For more information about teen Mental Health First Aid, visit MHFA.org/teens.
Ava Zapolski is a certified teen Mental Health First Aider and student at Amherst Steele High School in Amherst, Ohio.