For this is dear old Oakwood’s mental state

Students and staff respond to the recent rise in awareness for mental health


Lumberjacks link: At the beginning of the quarantine, principal Paul Waller released videos to give students updates on what is happening in regards to the school and how to stay healthy during the quarantine. Screenshot from video to students.

Shayla Frederick, Reporter

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have increased as much as 58 percent in states across the U.S. from 1999 to 2016. 

“At least 25 attempts are made for every completed suicide,” according to Dayton Children’s Hospital’s website. “Learning more about what might lead a teen to suicide may help prevent further tragedies.”

The class of 2020 has felt the impact of this trend. In November 2018, Jacob Polete, who would have graduated with the class of 2020, died by suicide. After Polete’s death, his family partnered with the Dayton Children’s Foundation to create the The Jacob D. Polete Endowment for Adolescent Behavioral Health & Suicide Prevention for people to donate in his memory. In the graduation ceremony on May 26, Principal Dr. Paul Waller called for a moment of silence in remembrance of Polete.

In addition, Sam Nicholaisen (12), survived a suicide attempt in 2016. After his attempt, he realized that a priority in the school should be the awareness and advocacy for students’ mental health.

In my opinion, the mental health and well being of students takes precedence over schooling,” Nicholaisen, who has become a mental health advocate in the community, said. “Logically, the happier, more energetic, and less depressed kids are, the more likely they are to focus and do better in school.”

As a result of his experience, he pushed the school to initiate a Hope Squad, as well as speakers to come in and talk to students regarding the topic of mental health. 

Initiated this year, Hope Squad is a group in which students are able to freely speak about their mental health and personal problems to help unite the entirety of the Oakwood community. Although the year was cut short, members of Hope Squad still believe that they made a positive impact on the school.

“To make an impact, you only need to affect one person,” Paige Lumpkins, a co-adviser for Hope Squad, said. “With Hope Squad, we helped more than one person, so I believe we made an impact in our short time at the school this year.”

Hope Squad was planning to have “The Grove”, a place where students can come in and talk to other students about their problems, running by March 16. Due to the stay-at-home order initiated by Gov. Mike DeWine on March 13, this goal was not reached.

“Although yes, it is a bit disappointing to not be able to get ‘The Grove’ in action this year,” Lumpkins said. “We can hope for next year and what is to come for Hope Squad.”

Not only was the school set to launch Hope Squad this year, but also has started initiatives through homeroom. Initiated in the junior high last year, high school students started to fill out STOP forms biweekly in homeroom. This was used as a way for counselors and staff to get a sense of how students are doing academically and mentally.

Although there has been improvement in regards to awareness for mental health, an obstacle in this effort lies in the students. While most are kind and understanding, there are those few who are ignorant to those with mental illness.

“Sometimes people think I’m trying to get attention whenever I have a bad panic attack,” Grace LaFountain (10) said. “There is always room for improvement, and it is up to students to become more educated for the better.”

Awareness and support for mental health cannot be achieved overnight. However, administration and students have the potential to make Oakwood a place where those with mental illnesses feel they can get the support they need.

I do believe we have made progress, but that does not mean things should slow down,” Nicholaisen said. “After the Class of 2020 leaves, it is up to the remaining students to continue to push the administration to take adequate care of its students.”

In any disaster, tragedy or pandemic, it is common for a rise in anxiety to occur. With the presence of COVID-19, mental health is a great factor medical professionals are monitoring at this time. It is especially important due to the rise in awareness for mental health that has occurred over the past couple of years.

“More than four in ten adults overall (45%) feel that worry and stress related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health, up from 32% in early March.” Ashley Kirzinger, a writer for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said.

Despite the anxiety that COVID-19 brings, there are resources students and staff can use to care for themselves at this time. It is important to maintain communication now more than ever.

“During this time, email will be our primary method of communication,” Lumpkins said. “However, if you are experiencing more extensive or crisis-related concerns, please contact a hotline or another immediate resource.”

Wish to seek support during these stressful times? Visit the Disaster Distress Helpline or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness Hotline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).