From Stigma to Strength: Inspiring Mental Health Advocacy in Schools

Discover how our Balance In Mind program partnered with school counselors to empower students during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Today’s teenagers are navigating a complex and rapidly changing world, often facing an array of unique mental health challenges. From academic pressures and social media influence to increased stress levels and uncertainties about the future, the weight on their shoulders is immense. As they strive to find their identity and cope with the demands of modern life, addressing and supporting their mental well-being has become more crucial than ever.

In its third consecutive year during Mental Health Awareness Month in May, the Lake Washington Schools Foundation’s Balance in Mind program joined forces with counselors to champion mental health awareness through a series of in-person activities at four LWSD high schools: Eastlake, Emerson, Juanita, and Lake Washington.

This year marked the most successful year yet, with an increasing number of schools seeking support to hold positive mental health events.

Activities were thoughtfully designed to provide a message of care to students, to engage them in reflecting on mental health issues, and to connect them and their peers with necessary resources. These include Spin the Wheel mental health trivia, Healthy Bodies Healthy Minds breakfast, Self-Care Day, Mental Health Poster Competition, “It’s OK to not be OK” postcard exercise, “Pop On Over” for Snacks and Fun, and Gratitude Wall.

One of the most remarkable takeaways from this year’s activities is the recognition that teenagers possess a greater understanding of mental health compared to previous generations. Growing up in a culture with values acceptance and inclusivity, many students were eager and comfortable sharing their own mental health journeys with others. Contrary to popular belief, mental health is becoming less of a taboo subject among students, who demonstrated an impressive willingness to address it head-on.

“I had a panic attack this morning,” one student shared. “My friend asked if I was ok, and I did some breathing, and it got better.”

The overwhelming gratitude expressed by both students and staff is a testament to the impact these types of activities continue to have on raising awareness and removing the stigma around mental health. 

Taylor Reuhl, counselor at Juanita High School, expressed her appreciation to the Balance In Mind team, “Today was a smashing success and I so appreciate your willingness to support our students and counseling team. You’re a dream.”

By encouraging open conversations about this critical topic, schools can continue to foster an environment where students feel comfortable addressing their own mental health concerns and seeking help when needed. Balance In Mind program volunteer Vanessa Jones observed, “Acts of kindness, such as providing snacks, lending a listening ear, and engaging in enjoyable activities like sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and fidgets, can make a significant difference.”

As we move forward, let’s make mental health education a top priority and cultivate a supportive and caring environment in schools. Education, connection, understanding, and compassion are vital elements for promoting the well-being of our students.

Learn more about the work of our Balance In Mind program.

Bonnie is the Communications and Programs Coordinator for Lake Washington Schools Foundation.

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