A planned mental health week and community tailgate at Greenwood Community High School will raise awareness of the resources available to students next week.
“Highlight Mental Health” is a week-long event of events and informative sessions about support resources for Greenwood students, culminating with a free community tailgate prior to the Woodmen’s football game against visiting Decatur Central on Sept. 29. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield partnered with the Greenwood Education Foundation, Greenwood Athletic Department and Bring Change to Mind for the event, hoping to let students know what mental health resources are available to them.
The idea for Mental Health Week came from Darryl Lockett, director of health equity at Anthem, who wanted to work with a local school district on a health and wellness outreach idea. As Anthem staff did further research, they discovered that September is National Suicide Prevention Month, so they decided to address mental health awareness and its impact on youth, said Lissi Lobb, director of the company’s behavioral health program Anthem.
They considered partnering with a few different school districts, but ultimately chose Greenwood because two of their employees live in Greenwood and have strong ties to the community – including Lobb.
“We felt like this would be a very organic relationship that would be easy to build,” she said.
Anthem initially approached Greenwood athletic director Mike Campbell about the idea of a tailgate and he was very supportive. As planning continued, the Greenwood Education Foundation became involved, and eventually it developed into a series of student-led activities leading up to the final clapboard, Lobb said.
One student group that has been particularly involved is Greenwood’s Bring Change to Mind chapter, a group focused on mental health advocacy. Rather than being a support group, the organization is a way to bring mental health issues to light and show people how to achieve positive mental health, said Tanya Fenner, a high school guidance counselor.
“I went to a conference where they gave a talk and was really excited,” Fenner said. “Then we decided to start a chapter here at Greenwood.”
Highlight Mental Health Week events will primarily take place on Mondays and Fridays, as the week was already scheduled as a college-go week for GCHS students, Fenner said. The name of Mental Health Week was inspired by the theme of a planned mental health day on Friday, Lobb said.
“The theme of this week’s student section football game is ‘Neon,’ so we really wanted to embrace that neon theme,” Lobb said.
On Monday, football players, cheerleaders and members of Bring Change to Mind will be outside the high school handing out cards marked 988 – the lifeline for suicide and crisis. This is an easy way to start the conversation about mental health and resources, Lobb said.
She has also spoken with the school’s broadcast team about possibly hosting a podcast with some football players and coaches about mental health. This podcast will feature casual conversations about mental toughness versus mental health and how someone can have mental toughness on the field and still struggle with issues like anxiety and depression, she said.
“Those two contradict each other sometimes,” Lobb said. “When you’re a soccer player, you’re seen as a really tough guy… that can affect you when you’re struggling and make it harder to ask for help.”
Those arriving at the high school Friday for the game and tailgate will be greeted by 988-yard signs along Woodman Boulevard. During the tailgate, Mental Health-branded items and 988 gear will be distributed to students, including T-shirts, rally towels and stress balls, she said. There will also be a food truck, games and prizes.
A cheerleader T-shirt throw is also planned during the game, Lobb said.
Such an event is important because suicide is the second leading cause of death among high school-aged youth and studies have shown that only half of children and teens with a mental illness receive the treatment they need, Lobb said. Early intervention and mental health support can help youth overcome these challenges, she said.
“The community has come a long way when it comes to destigmatizing conversations about mental health,” Lobb said. “But I still think there is still a lot to do. We want people to be able to talk freely about their mental health condition as it is a comprehensive health issue and not just an isolated problem.”
People may talk openly and without fear about their physical health problems, but the same cannot be said about mental health. Getting them involved early can help encourage them to be more open and seek help themselves, she said.
Lobb has been overwhelmed by the response so far from students, administration and the Greenwood Education Foundation. There was immediate enthusiasm and support from everyone, she said.
“It’s a testament to the fact that we have such a great community, that we have people willing to support us and offer their support,” she said. “We make that visible to our youth so that they don’t feel isolated or alone, that there are people in their own community who really care about them (and) who want them to succeed.”
“It’s really important to let kids know that they don’t have to hold things back and that they can let people know if they’re having trouble,” Fenner said. It’s also important for parents to get involved and be there for their children when they have difficulties, she said.
“Ask questions, reach out and make sure our teens and everyone else is doing really well,” Fenner said. “Speaking of mental health, there is no shame in this and we need to bring this out into the open. There’s no shame in asking for help.”
Lobb also stressed the importance of ensuring everyone is aware of the crisis line 988, which can give people immediate access to a mental health professional if needed.
“Any type of phone call, text message, chat – they can make sure the person who is reaching out gets the right care they need at the right time,” she said.
WHEN YOU GO
Highlight the mental health community tailgate
What: A free community tailgate to promote mental health education and awareness prior to the home game against the Decatur Central Hawks. There will be a food truck, games and prizes available, as well as free t-shirts, rally towels and more.