State introduces mental health program


photo by Sarah Hinnant

Students view the introductory module for the mental health course. The videos will be played during an extended midblock period.

Following a surge of tragedies in high schools across the country, most notably with Stoneman Douglas two years ago, the Florida state legislature created a new law requiring all public middle schools and high schools to watch a selection of videos regarding mental health, drugs and alcohol. These videos will be presented in students’ midblock classes with an adjusted bell schedule, the week of Jan. 27 to 31.

Every day except Wednesday will reserve 90 minutes of the school day for presenting the lesson-based videos. Monday concentrates on mental health basics, mental disorders and how to seek resources. Tuesday discusses drug abuse and how to avoid it. Finally, a video on alcohol which will not be presented to middle schools will be split between Thursday and Friday for a total of 180 minutes. The district chose Everfi as the provider for the videos, as they meet the criteria required by the state.

 Adjusted Bell Schedule

Students will intermittently go through interactive modules with the teachers to ensure they grasp the content. Despite the rise in mental health issues in most teenagers today, they lack figureheads or role models that can openly talk about it with them.

“I think high schoolers don’t necessarily have a mainstream voice,” said school counselor Nick Maby. “But this is the age group where there’s the biggest need, so they’re doing this in the right place.”

While the thought of six hours of training might be daunting, many students are grateful for the platform schools are providing them. This provides a new wave of information that could be critical to awareness about themselves and looking after their peers.

“A lot of kids… don’t really have a definite mechanism of how to get better,” junior Bella Wright said. “I feel like with this, we could offer a lot of materials and resources for people.”

Wright has dealt with mental health issues throughout her life and relies on counselors like head of New Horizons, Megan Wessinger. The counselors running the program hold weekly meetings for students to openly discuss their problems with one another, offering advice or consolations and creating a supportive community within the group. 

The goal of the videos is to extend the reach of that open discussion about serious topics like mental health that are often swept under the rug. Although they are meant to be purely educational and not a substitute for therapy, school counselors recognize that the videos have the potential to upset some people.

“We’re going to have our counselors on standby… so we’ll have support for students if need be,” said assistant principal Doug Miller.

There will be makeup opportunities for those who are absent during the week of Feb. 3. Those who do not have a seventh period can watch the modules at home through the Portal. However, their progress is monitored; if students choose to forgo the assignments at home, they are required to complete the videos in school during that week.

These videos are not meant to be a chore, but an accessible view to topics heavily prevalent in most students’ lives today.

“[Mental health] is kind of at the forefront of everything right now,” counselor McKenzie Kaplan said. “It’s good that they’re recognizing that people struggle sometimes, and that that’s okay, so let’s deal with it.”