Leadership Jackson County project team focuses on mental health

The statistics are startling.

In the United States, 4.4 million children ages 3 to 17 have diagnosed anxiety, and 19.9 million have diagnosed depression. Some children have a combination of those two and a behavior problem.

“That’s astounding to me,” Peggy Brewer said as the Leadership Jackson County health project team made a presentation May 19 at Pewter Hall in Brownstown.

As a mother and grandmother, she said she didn’t really know the impact she has on the mental health of her children and grandchildren.

“My responsibility in the world is to help build and bring awareness that their mind matters,” she said. “It’s my responsibility to support their parents, the schools, the church. They are our next generation, and their mind matters.”

Taking care of overall mental health is so important and is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength, Brewer said.

“Our overall mental health matters,” she said. “If your mind is healthy, that matters. Let’s keep it that way.”

After Brewer, Fayeann Hauer, Debbie Herbert, Kelly Kreutzjans and Jennifer O’Neal were put on the health project team, they learned a high percentage of people believe mental health is a problem in the county. It’s also an issue nationwide.

A quote they heard along the way, “We all

have mental health, but it’s not something everybody talks about,” really stuck with them.

“We were really looking at how could we take this stigma and how could we have those conversations and normalize those,” Hauer said. “We looked at how we find the largest group of individuals and start conversations and have an impact.”

They chose the Seymour Middle School Sixth Grade Center for their project, My Mind Matters.

“We felt that age group was prime to be able to educate and start those conversations and help with healthy behaviors, thoughts, actions and work with them,” Hauer said. “We all know that this is a very, very tip of the iceberg, but we came together and we thought, ‘You know, if we can affect one child, have some kind of positive impact, then our project would be a success.’”

While talking to Principal Loriann Wessel, Assistant Principal Monica Notestine and School Counselor Samantha Browning, the project team learned sixth-graders respond well to competition and participating in activities that are engaging and interesting.

Coming up with a week full of activities for the students in May was good timing because that’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

Herbert said the theme for the first day was gratitude, so they wanted to show how important that is to improve mood, social bonds and overall mental health. Students and teachers were provided with thank-you cards they could sign and send to a community member.

The next day, the group wanted each student to write a positive thing they felt about themselves on a colorful Post-It note, and all of those were placed in the hallways and classrooms for all to see.

The third day’s theme was education, so mental health facts and myths were shared during the morning announcements.

On the fourth day, students learned the importance of journaling as a positive way to empty their mind and focus on the positive, Herbert said.

The final day consisted of a Circles of Support activity, where the sixth-graders identified positive influences in their lives in and out of school.

All week, they also participated in a challenge, where they had a chance to win prizes, including stickers made by Seymour High School’s Owl Manufacturing students.

“We also wanted the students to carry forward beyond the week into the summer some mind-healthy activities to make sure they understand the importance of healthy bodies, healthy minds on into the summer, so we created an activity sheet of ABCs of healthy activities they could do,” Herbert said.

That was included in a folder they received, which also included mental health resources from Mental Health America of Jackson County.

Teachers also were rewarded for helping pull off the week of activities. They received gift cards to buy Polar Pops.

“It takes a lot of strength to be a teacher, and we wanted to show appreciation to them,” O’Neal said.

In all, nearly 380 students and 30 staff members were involved in the My Mind Matters program.

So what’s next? Kreutzjans said the project team hopes to see the school carry on with this program each year, and local resources were shared with them to help them do that.

The goal is to see other local schools and grade levels get involved.

“There’s no way to measure the impact, but if we touched one kid, we feel it’s a success,” she said. “If this one kid chooses to be kind or find a more positive way to deal with their feelings … then that would be a success in our eyes.”