AWARE Day Highlights the Stigma Against Mental Illnesses

Photo by Abby Lass

By Allie Floros and Maggie Winters
News Reporter

This past Wednesday, the AWARE club held the annual AWARE day highlighting the complexities of mental illnesses through personal narratives by South students as well as outside presenters.

The AWARE club works to educate students and spread awareness to de-stigmatize the topic of mental health at South. As guidance counselor and advisor of the club, Sarah Style, explains, AWARE was formed after three students from Newton schools took their lives.

“After those tragedies and losses to suicide, the community really came together. They acknowledged that mental health was something that we really need to pay attention to,” Style said. “As part of that coming together, students started to form what is now the AWARE club.”

Initially called the Peer Leadership Group, AWARE members hope to change the environment and culture at school to ensure that students take initiative when seeking help.

While planning AWARE day, co-president and senior Grace Leuchtenberger describes how the club planned the student panel presentation for the A block session.

“We had a lot of one to two hour meetings. In the few weeks leading up to it, we would meet to prepare scripts and just try to get comfortable with each other and reading our stories aloud,” said Leuchtenberger.

Adding on, Style continues to stress the importance of this day and how proud she remains of the club members for managing their schoolwork, while also diligently organizing the day’s panelists.

“It’s hard to find time to balance everything, but the students that I’ve gotten to work with are incredible, and have taken this on as a leap of faith to figure out which speakers they want to bring, and contacting them. It’s a lot of work, but it has turned into a beautiful and true student run organization,” said Style.

The diligence presented by the club members enabled students like seniors Aidan Basset and Emily Aunins to present their personal stories on Wednesday.

“I talked about my personal struggles with mental health and depression, and how it can sometimes be challenging to get help, go seek therapy, let people know about your needs and your struggles,” said Bassett.

Furthermore, Aunins said she spoke about “how family stress and relationships affected my mental health and then I also talked about therapy. I talked about how your first therapist might not always be your first one, but you have to keep trying, because you will eventually find someone.”

These student presentations remain a pivotal part of AWARE day, for they provide the audience with an inside perspective on the narratives and struggles of their classmates.

Leuchtenberger also explains how impactful the out of school presenters were including a presentation given by two speakers from a Philadelphia based organization, Minding Your Mind, which works to spread mental health awareness to young adults.

“They talked about signs you can see and should look for if you think someone is struggling with their mental health. You could see that the Minding Your Mind speakers really caught people’s attention and made people listen,” said Leuchtenberger.

Overall, future president of AWARE Zanny Weinreb sees the success of AWARE day because “a lot of people benefited and found something to relate to that they hadn’t heard anybody talk about in the past.”

Adding on, Bassett explains as a whole he hoped his fellow students left the sessions more educated and realized they have a close community surrounding them.

“I think the most important thing for people to know is that they are not alone in struggling with mental health, and that mental health struggles are real and meaningful, and that help, and getting it, is real and meaningful,” said Bassett. “More than anything I think this day serves to legitimize the issue, and to help people take the topic more seriously.”

In addition, Style wants attendees to understand that struggling with mental health issues does not limit one’s life to a point where success can not be achieved.

“It’s important for people to remind themselves that they deserve help if they’re struggling, and that things can and will get better. Sometimes it’s messy and it isn’t always linear, but people can be challenged by mental illness or symptoms of mental illness and still lead very successful fulfilling lives. I really hope that got through from all of the presentations,” said Style.

For interested students, the Newton South AWARE club meets every Wednesday J block in the Faculty Dining Room off of the Cafeteria.