This week was Mental Health Awareness week, so one Waubun Secondary student decided to take the opportunity to shine a light on the issue at her school.
"Mental health is a big factor in my life. I have gone through trauma," said Waubun ninth grader Ninsonnis "Sunshine" Englund. "We wanted people to realize it's not just something you say. We wanted to get people involved."
Englund, who is on the student council, says she heard the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton school district was planning a mental health awareness week, so she brought the idea to the student council, and they ran with it, creating daily activities to educate and keep the issue on people's minds.
Englund says she felt compelled to bring more awareness to her school because she feels like there is still a lot of misunderstanding around mental health, particularly with fellow students who may be struggling with their own trauma and struggling to grasp what their classmates are going through as well.
"I feel like a lot of people don't really understand the importance of mental health," she said. "They think that people who struggle with mental health are attention seekers, and they may avoid them because of that."
Englund also brought up the fact that students in Waubun have seen the toll that mental health can take on a fellow classmate. Two years ago the school lost a student to suicide, and it still weighs heavy on people's minds.
"We know what it's like to lose someone to mental health," said Englund
Strengthening the effort to watch out for one another and stay educated on what to look for and how to help someone who is experiencing mental health, the students invited mental health workers from White Earth Mental Health to talk with students throughout the week about different mental illnesses. The student council also kept things upbeat and fun, by doing daily activities and games revolving around mental health, like trivia.
Monday, May 13, the students wore colored ribbons, each of which represented a different mental illness. A speaker from White Earth Mental Health also came to talk with students about depression, suicide, and self harm.
Tuesday, May 14, students made a "brain chain." Each student got a strip of colored construction paper to write a positive message on, and then they linked them to make chain of positive messages to decorate a common area of the school. A mental health worker also came to the school to talk about social conditions, like bipolar, Asperger's, autism, ADD, ADHD, and PTSD.
Wednesday, May 15, students wrote their worries on pieces of paper and put them all in a jar. At the end of the day, they shredded the papers, a symbol to show the students they can overcome their worries. The students also learned about trauma and the effect it can have on a person's mental health.
Thursday, May 16, Tina Erickson brought in her therapy dog, Norma, a rescue Yorkshire Terrier, to teach the students about the benefits of therapy animals.
Erickson told the students she has brain tumors and trained Norman to be her therapy dog. She said he comforts her through the stress of her doctor appointments, but he really loves kids, so she takes him around to schools and hospitals and lets students read to him also.
"I go into like hospitals and schools and libraries and they can pet Norman, and Norman gives kisses, although he's not supposed to give kisses," she said.
Erickson explained the training she and Norman have to go through to keep him certified, and the students also learned about phobias and panic disorders on Thursday as well.
To cap off the week, students wore white on Friday to show support for mental health.
"The kids have really taken ownership .... They have really been supportive of this," explained Sarah Bauck, the Waubun Secondary band director and student council advisor. "White Earth has been super, too. It's been kind of a joint effort, and it's been really fun ... I'm hoping we can go bigger with it even next year."