mental health

Norwich Rally to Address Youth Mental Health and Bullying

People from across the state are invited to a rally in Norwich Saturday morning to address youth mental health and bullying.

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Miah Rivera, a freshman at Norwich Free Academy, said she was excited to start school in the fall. Now, several months later, she said she is finding it difficult to even get to class everyday.

"You stress out a lot and that's just hard to cope while that's happening," said Rivera.

The 15-year-old said she has been struggling with bullying that is affecting her mental wellness and her learning.

"You can't focus on the things you want to learn because there are just so many situations, so many problems," said Rivera.

Marcela Lee, a youth and mental health advocate, said she started hearing stories from students like Rivera and immediately wanted to help.

"There's no worse feeling than when you are sitting alone in your thoughts, especially as a teenager," said Lee. "We want solutions."

A rally being held in Norwich Saturday will address mental health for young people and allow them to talk about their experiences with violence and bullying.

Lee is hosting a rally in Norwich this weekend that will address mental health for young people. Students are invited to share their experiences, get connected to resources, and speak out against violence and bullying in schools.

"It's really to raise the awareness that there are supports out there for you. There are resources out here for you," said Lee. "We are going to have all of this information at the rally."

The rally is scheduled for 11 a.m. this Saturday, Dec. 11 at the Chelsea Parade in Norwich. It will happen rain or shine.

"We want them to know that their voice is more powerful than ours and that collectively, they can take action. They can make changes," said Denielle Beaudet-Sandoval, a parent from Preston who is planning to attend the rally this weekend.

Beaudet-Sandoval has a daughter in high school and said she has seen firsthand how the pandemic has affected young people.

"It is such a complicated situation for them that I just feel like, not to sound like a cliché, but we need to put our arms around these kids. All of us," said Beaudet-Sandoval.

On top of the challenging situation for young people, Beaudet-Sandoval said it is difficult to find help.

"There are just not enough resources," Beaudet-Sandoval.

Stephanie Swindell, a parent from Bozrah, said she has also seen how young people have been impacted in the last two years. She said on top of the challenges that come with the pandemic, different kinds of bullying have left her children, and others, not wanting to go to school some days.

"I've watched a complete turnaround with their personalities," said Swindell of her own children. "A once bubbly, excited very outgoing child has become very hidden and not wanting to go to school."

Swindell said she will be attending the rally and is hoping that it will lead to change and more people being willing to speak out.

"You feel like you should be doing something when you are watching this happen around you," said Swindell. "To teach our students through us speaking that they too can have a voice."

Rivera also plans to attend the rally. She wants to remind her fellow students, "know that people are around you and there is always help."

Lee said anyone from around the state, not just Norwich, is invited to the rally.

Conversation with NFA Head of School

Dr. Brian Kelly, head of school at Norwich Free Academy, said that the environment on campus is a little heavier lately.

"And we need to address that because people are suffering," said Kelly.

While there has not been a noticeable uptick in violence or bullying this school year, Kelly said that there is a different feeling or intensity to the incidents.

"It's a strong sense of mental health issues, anxiety, there's been some physical altercations," said Kelly. "There are definitely situations where we have seen disrespect and that's troubling."

The pandemic is playing a major role in the challenges, Kelly said. They are noticing a trend that a lot of the more "troublesome" events that are happening on campus are involving kids who were in remote learning over the last year.

In the past, Kelly said that the school has been able to address situations on an individual level. Now, he believes, his team needs to have a more broad and general intervention for students and also for faculty and staff.

"We need to make sure that everybody feels safe and secure while they are attending school," said Kelly. "We are taking a very different approach moving forward. Even if that means pausing a little bit of the academics to address some of the social and emotional needs of our kids and giving our faculty and staff the tools to support this endeavor, we are going to do it."

Kelly also said that 95% of the students at NFA right now are making good decisions.

"But they are seeing a percentage of kids that aren't and that's affecting them as well," said Kelly.

A representative from NFA, the school's director of community relations, plans to attend the community rally Saturday.

"It most certainly is a societal issue, but everyone plays a role and I think that's important. In order to solve this we have to come together as a community and really solve it," said Kelly.

Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health

This week, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory on protecting youth mental health.

According to the advisory, "since the pandemic began, rates of psychological distress among young people, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders, have increased."

The surgeon general classified it as an urgent public health issue, but stressed that many young people are resilient. He said there is not just a medical obligation to act now, but a moral obligation.

"Supporting the mental health of children and youth will require a whole-of-society effort to address longstanding challenges, strengthen the resilience of young people, support their families and communities, and mitigate the pandemic’s mental health impacts," Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, US surgeon general, wrote in the advisory.

The advisory lays out general steps that people can take to help, including recognizing that mental health is an essential part of overall health. The surgeon general then details ways that different professions and community groups can help.

You can read the full advisory here.

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