Unprecedented times call for the need to address mental health

(Illustration by Isabel Gibson)

By Athena Demeros, Features Writer

During the pandemic, physical health has monopolized people’s attention; however, the emotional consequences of the Coronavirus are equally important to students and faculty at Maine South. 

Maine South social worker Mr. Steve Mihalopoulos recognizes there are specific reasons for an increase in stress.

“Because of the current circumstances, many students aren’t able to access the coping strategies they typically would or do things that would normally contribute to positive mental health, like spending time with friends and family, going to the gym to exercise, participating in extracurricular activities,” Mr. Mihalopoulos said. 

Restrictions on social gatherings and travel can also make students feel isolated as they are unable to get away from life at home as frequently. 

“As most students are predominantly at home, striking a school/life balance can be hard,” Mr. Mihalopoulos said. “On top of that, having families share close quarters for a prolonged period of time can also be stressful.” 

As a way to improve mental health, junior Amy Gusewelle has been using social media in an attempt to connect with and support her peers. 

“I mostly use social media as a platform to reach out to people,” Gusewelle said. “Especially now, when we can’t see each other in person, it can be easy to forget to check up on one another.”

Gusewelle wants people to feel comfortable by creating an environment where their voices are heard. 

“There is no shame in reaching out for help,” Gusewelle said. 

It is important for students not only to maintain their own mental wellbeing, but also to be vigilant for signs of friends struggling.

“If students need support or are concerned about a peer, they are strongly encouraged to contact their student services team or even fill out an anonymous alert,” Mr. Mihalopoulos said.

Easily accessible assistance can be found through the various links on Maine South website’s newly added resource document.

“In addition, we created a ‘Where Do I Go For Support?’ document (which is on the website) to provide students and families quick access to mental health resources in and out of the building,” Mr. Mihalopoulos said.

Junior Carissa Cimilluca realizes small things can make a big difference and has made a conscious effort to check in on her friends through Facetime and texting. 

“I’ve been Facetiming my friends during our lunches to talk about our days and make sure they are feeling okay,” Cimilluca said. 

Recognizing this is a difficult year for all, Mr. Michael Guccione starts each of his AP Computer Science classes with a song to set the tone for the day.

 “I feel music is a common ground for everyone,” Mr. Guccione said. “I pick songs purposefully to fit the lesson or the current state of our times.”

Mr. Guccione’s goal is to calm his students through the implementation of music into his curriculum.

“I feel being personable with students goes a long way with building trust, which in turn eases the mind,” Mr. Guccione said. “People have to feel stable and comfortable first before learning can take place.”

Band director Mr. David Hutter emphasizes the importance in prioritizing mental health for students to achieve academic success. 

“Mental health is human health, and we have to take care of ourselves first to even have a shot at learning,” Mr. Hutter said. 

Mr. Hutter, along with some of his colleagues, has been asking his students to fill out surveys about their mental health throughout this school year. 

“The information I have collected has helped me know who to reach out to or who needs help,” Mr. Hutter said. 

In order to make sure all students are contacted, the administration sent out a survey to the whole student body,

 

“We administered a mental health screening to all Maine South students, in order to identify those who may be demonstrating social-emotional concerns,” Mr. Mihalopoulos said. “Counselors, social workers, and psychologists then followed up with any students who were considered to be at potential risk. We have continued to provide in-person and virtual counseling, both individually and in groups, for any students in need.”  

Cimilluca understands the need for Maine South staff and students to focus on mental wellness, especially during the pandemic, to eliminate stress and promote a positive outlook. 

“It [mental health] sets the base for making healthy decisions,” Cimilluca said. “It is comforting to know Maine South is helping promote good mental health.”

 

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