As human beings, we’re all better off taking care of our bodies and minds, but in truth, it’s not always easy, and especially with a global pandemic still wreaking havoc.
And because it’s difficult, even for adults to keep both in tip-top shape, and particularly our minds, John Muir Middle School recently put on an all-day mental health event called “Muir Empowered.”
Instead of attending classes, the students visited more than a dozen workshops and assemblies on important matters such as being mindful, dealing with stress, anxiety, empowerment, yoga, vaping awareness, and suicide prevention.
“Mental health is important all the time for our kids, even during good times our kids struggle with anxiety,” said Dr. Greg Miller, Muir’s principal. “There’s a lot of stress growing up as a teenager, but particularly the coming out of the pandemic with the loneliness and isolation that a lot of our kids felt, we just found this year their mental health is more fragile than ever.”
Miller, who has been at Muir for 10 years, said this type of event comes around every three years because, after that period of time, the student has moved on to high school.
Each student who attends Muir will have an opportunity to experience and learn from the event.
“The point of Muir Empowered is to give them tools. To help them know that it’s okay to not be okay,” he said. “That they need to speak up when they need help and to give them tools to address issues when they feel depressed, or they feel down, or they feel anxious about things. To let them know that things can get better. they just need to be actively working towards that.”
Because no one is perfect and we all make mistakes, the day’s calendar will help navigate the pitfalls of being a young person in today’s ever-changing world and with social media omnipresent.
“I think today will help equip our kids for a lot of different things. Even now coming out of the isolation of the pandemic, that may pass but there might be other times when they’re lonely,” Miller said. “There are definitely times when our kids face stress. Today is about all the different things you can do, whether it’s talking to someone, whether it’s doing art or drums or drama or yoga which are all things that the kids are experiencing today as ways of therapy. All of that is a way that you can deal with those feelings you are having and better yourself emotionally.”
Knowing what to do or where to go is essential if someone is feeling alone or anxious.
“There are simple things you can do by yourself. Journaling can be very powerful with different feelings you are having. Taking deep breaths, breathing exercises, things like yoga, all these things are free and available online. Talking to a therapist is a great tool,” Miller said. “There are people out there if you need help. We have counselors. We have a school psychologist. It’s okay to reach out. You just have to voice it.”
This is a significant undertaking, but it’s important and necessary according to Miller.
“There’s a team of us that have come together to do this. It’s the counselors and administrators together and we do all the coordinating,” he pointed out. “We have 30 different presenters, so we’re the ones contacting them, asking all these agencies and nonprofits and therapy groups if they’ll come in and donate their time to work with our kids. It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Shana Duran works as a counselor at Muir and believes this day is critical because of what can be learned.
“Since we as counselors see a lot of anxiety, suicidal ideations, there’s been some vaping. This day is for empowerment. This day is for mental health. This day is to help kids even if they may not vape right now, they could be vaping in the future,” she said. “The stuff that we’re showing right now could help them through those times. We had an empowerment speaker talk about being you and being happy about being you which is important for kids at this age. Middle school is a tough age. We’re doing what we can to help them with their mental health and their academics. This day is all about mental health and getting them through the hard times.”
The day’s events included several speakers, and they were Jessie Funk, renowned teen resilience speaker, Robb Holladay, national anti-vaping speaker, Ernie G., national empowerment speaker, and Didi Hirsch.
A movie titled: Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety was shown to parents and afterward a panel discussion with the producer of the film that included the school psychologist and a parent.
Also on the sprawling Muir campus was UCLA’s Center for Child Anxiety, Love on Paws, Institute for Girls Development, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Burbank Family Services Agency, Hope Therapy Center, Remo Drum Center Rhythm Wellness, Counseling 4 Kids, Destinations for Teens and numerous yoga instructors.