WILMINGTON — A group of students at Salesianum School have formed a local chapter of a national organization dedicated to ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. It is the first such chapter in Delaware, but the boys hope it won’t be the last.
Bring Change to Mind (BC2M) has six guiding principles: start the conversation, amplify voices, be an ally, empower the future, support science, and fight for human rights. Molly Ontiveros, the director of guidance at Salesianum, formed the school’s chapter after the national organization put out a call for more schools to join, although Delaware was not on their radar. Several students at Salesianum are trained peer counselors, and many of them have become active in BC2M, including Patrick Boyle, the president.
Boyle said he reached out to Ontiveros as a sophomore because he was struggling with his mental health and anxiety that he said was related to the loss of family members, the transition to high school and some extracurricular activities. Last year, she recommended him for the peer-counseling program, which he enjoys greatly.
“When we found out about Bring Change to Mind, I was so excited. I think peer counseling is a great start to address mental health at Sallies, but I think that more could have been done. This is a great step in that direction,” he said.
Not many students at Salesianum reach out for counseling, he said. The peer counselors and now BC2M meet to discuss strategies about how to reach more students, but they haven’t been able to have many actual counseling sessions in the last year because of the school closure last year and the hybrid approach to education this year.
“I’m glad that this club is going to be an ongoing thing that raises awareness in the school and is not just for students who need help or who reach out for peer counselors,” Boyle said.
Senior Jack Krukiel said Salesianum can be a tough place to address mental health. A sense of masculinity pervades a lot of the interactions at the school, he said, and there is just a lack of education on the subject in general. It is often mischaracterized or dismissed.
“I don’t feel like that comes from a place of malice. A lot of it stems from a lack of education on the topic of mental illness, of anxiety and depression,” he said.
“I feel like this club is to educate so that people can be more aware how many people their age have a mental illness or are struggling with stress and anxiety. It’s important to sort of educate everyone on mental health and how we can sort of be a better community.”
The suicide of Saint Mark’s High School graduate Sean Locke in July 2018 is on the mind of one of the students quite a bit. Declan Landis, a senior, said he is a friend of the Locke family, and the work of the family through its UnLocke the Light Foundation has been an inspiration.
Landis has taken the time to learn about mental illness and depression, and he wants to pass that understanding along to others his age who “don’t necessarily understand the ramifications of how they’re feeling or don’t feel supported by their community.” He wants to be the person they turn to if they are struggling so that more people don’t have to feel the pain he felt when he learned of Locke’s death.
During a presentation to the entire school, the group discussed tips to tackle issues that include anxiety and other school-related stress, junior Aidan Burke said. He believes it reached some students.
“I had a lot of kids coming up to me saying, ‘Good job on the presentation. That was really cool.’ I think that a lot of people signed up now. That’s a good sign for the future,” he said.
Ontiveros said 15 students and two faculty members joined BC2M after the presentation. “Clearly, something resonated in the presentation.”
Senior Joe Greenfield said he thinks that went over better than earlier discussions about mental health because they included student-produced videos that made it more personal.
“I think that had everyone completely engaged. What that said to me was how much schoolwide people are interested in a topic like mental health,” he said.
Junior Jackson Fanelli said the engagement during the presentation was good despite its virtual nature, but he thinks it will be better once everyone is in the same room.
“It’s hard this year, definitely, because everyone’s at home. It almost feels a little bit disconnected or at least more so than usual,” he said.
Chandler Morrell, a junior, has been surprised by the number of people who have come forward to express interest in getting assistance. The people who have done so, he added, included boys he never envisioned stepping forward.
“That just goes to show you, through my personal experience, that people you think would least need your help, or least need that kind of help, are the ones who won’t show it, are the ones who will be quiet,” Morrell said.
Krukiel said this shows how the students are maturing as they progress through Salesianum, and that they feel more comfortable opening up as they get to know each other.
“When you’re meeting new people, you’re a lot younger. You can be very immature. As freshmen, a lot of us were immature. We wanted to hold up these walls. We wanted to create this image of ourselves that was strong and unfazed by a lot of things,” he said.
As they get older, “it’s important to find ways that we can deal with them, like with the peer counseling. Of course, this has been to educate people who may not struggle with the same things.”
One of the goals of BC2M, he continued, is to make it normal for people to ask for help when they feel overwhelmed. The presentation included a list of resources available for young people.
The leadership team also includes senior Tommy Collins.
Ontiveros said she would be happy to speak to representatives from other high schools interested in forming a chapter. She could also put them in touch with the regional coordinator. BC2M has been a good way to take the programming that has been happening at Salesianum over the past few years and give the students more ownership.
Landis is absolutely on board with assisting other schools in any way possible. It would be an opportunity for Delaware’s high school community to band together for a greater good.
“I think it would be a really powerful thing to look back and say, ‘Hey, we were one of the first schools that was able to make this positive impact, not only in our own community but in the state and the country as a whole,” he said.
The club president, Boyle, is proud of Salesianum’s efforts thus far, and he is confident in the juniors who will be leading BC2M next year. “I’m so excited to see what we’re going to do and happy that we’re pioneering this for Delaware.”