GHS students who participate in The Gray Matters Collective gather once a month to learn tips on coping. Recently, therapy dogs joined them for a session.

Being a teenager comes with its challenges.

There are physical, emotional and social dynamics that go hand-in-hand with adolescence, and many students feel pressure when it comes to performing in the classroom or their chosen extracurricular.

With depression, anxiety and behavioral disorders the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents—according to the World Health Organization—Geneseo High School is stepping up its efforts to educate students and parents alike when it comes to mental health and the resources that are available in our community.

Along with Geneseo Police Department and its IMPACT team, GHS welcomed Bridgeway, The Gray Matters Collective, Hammond-Henry Hospital and NAMI for a mental health awareness and safety academy on February 8 at the high school’s Fine Arts Center.

“In smaller communities, there can sometimes be a stigma about reaching out for mental health services,” notes Brooke Emmerson, Assistant Principal at Geneseo High School. “Some people like to keep those matters private. We just want to make sure our students and their parents are aware of the resources in our community and give them a better understanding of how they can help.”

Detective Jamie Shoemaker of the Geneseo Police Department heads up its Integrated Model Police and Crisis Team (IMPACT), which was formed in March 2022. While she acknowledges she isn’t a trained counselor or therapist, Shoemaker is very capable of guiding people to the resources they might need.

“We’re trying to be more proactive instead of reactive, especially when it comes to mental health, substance use and crisis intervention,” Det. Shoemaker explains. “We’re another piece of the puzzle in our community and we want to help.”

While general awareness about mental health issues, how they can impact our youth, and what local resources are available were the key topics at the recent gathering, normalizing such issues is also important.

“Everyone’s days look differently and it’s OK to want help and get help,” says Det. Shoemaker. “A lot of high school students deal with anxiety and depression. We’re trying to address those things and we want parents to be familiar with the signs and symptoms.”

Emmerson’s hope is that if a student is feeling sad or anxious, they understand those emotions come with being an adolescent. Beyond that, if they need additional help to cope, students should feel comfortable reaching out to a friend, a parent or even a teacher.

“We want to encourage students to advocate for themselves,” states Emmerson. “If there is something they need—or as a school, if there is a support we can put in place—we want students to be comfortable about speaking up and letting us know.”

As important as it is for students to play a role in seeking help if they need it, Det. Shoemaker is asking parents to familiarize themselves with the signs and symptoms.

“It’s keeping an eye on the little things and recognizing if your son or daughter might be suffering from a mental illness,” she explains. “It’s about more awareness and then having that conversation with your child.”

The mental health awareness and safety academy is the first of its kind at GHS, but Emmerson and Det. Shoemaker hope it’s only the beginning of how they can educate and support our students and the local community on such issues.

“Maybe the best way to explain it is that no one wakes up deciding they want to be in crisis that day,” offers Det. Shoemaker. “When you think about that for a moment, you start to get a better understanding of how frustrating and difficult these situations can be. That’s why we need to be empathetic and sympathetic when someone is dealing with something.

“It could be anybody, even you,” she adds. “It’s important to consider how we treat people, and that is something that reflects on all of us. It’s easy to look the other way, but we live in a community together and sometimes you need to help each other out.”

Along with Geneseo Police Department and its IMPACT team, GHS will welcome Bridgeway, The Gray Matters Collective, Hammond-Henry Hospital and NAMI for a mental health awareness and safety academy on Wednesday, February 8 from 6-8 p.m. at the high school’s Fine Arts Center.