Written by Laura Beth Williams, OMM Program Manager at Josh Anderson Foundation
On a typical Saturday at 8:00 a.m., if I were to walk into a school building, it would likely be completely empty. On Saturday, October 5th, there were over 60 students who woke up early, organized transportation, and met at Fairfax High School just after sunrise. Why would they do such a thing? These students came together to work on common goals: practicing mindfulness, learning about protective and risk factors, performing coping skills exercises, and engaging in conversations to address the stigma around mental health at the third annual Our Minds Matter (OMM) Teen Summit hosted by the Josh Anderson Foundation.
When planning the annual summit, we wanted to reflect the values and goals OMM. Naturally, this meant the summit should be student-led. Five OMM student leaders facilitated our Mental Health 101 activity and coping skills stations. Seeing the students positively influencing their peers throughout the summit exemplified the importance of amplifying students’ voices and was a special thing to witness.
If you have ever worked with students you know that they can easily become disengaged or distracted. One of the most remarkable aspects of the day spent with these students was seeing how they stayed engaged throughout the entire four-hour summit.
We concluded the day with our guest speaker, Dr. Marc Brackett from the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence. When adults (especially doctors) speak to teens, they can oftentimes be perceived as a little boring, but not Dr. Brackett. In fact, the students reported that learning “name it to tame it” was one of their favorite parts of the summit. Plus, you always get brownie points for free swag. Especially when it’s a book that teaches you how to unlock the power of emotions to help kids, ourselves, and our society.
Why does any of this matter? Suicide has grown to become the second leading cause of youth deaths in the United States. Teens today are reporting the highest levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than in recent decades. We at the Josh Anderson Foundation believe it is critical to reverse this trend by providing training and material support that empowers student leaders to effectively deliver OMM activities to their peers on topics such as Mental Health 101, Stigma Reduction, Resource Awareness, Healthy Habits and Healthy Mindset.
The OMM model is student-led and is the first of its kind to offer structure and support for the high school population. If it’s anything we are learning as we develop this program, it’s that our kids want to support each other. They care for one another, and sometimes all it takes is providing them with opportunity. We see it every day, and we want as many people to see it as possible.
“I had so much fun and especially loved the guest speaker. The summit left me super inspired and excited for the future of OMM” – Edison High School
“Thank you so much for coming I really needed to hear it” -Oakton High School