Student Advocates for Mental Health Awareness Presentation


Camille Bugayong

On January 13th, the Student Advocates for Mental Health Awareness (SAMHA), along with Tracy Klingener, Director of Suicide Prevention Services at the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Counties, gave a presentation on mental health Issues in schools. Described as “an interactive zoom session on the effects of mental health on students, and ways to respond,” the presentation gave insight on different mental illnesses among teens and how teachers should respond when a student is struggling.

Started by Victoria Brastos in July 2020, SAMHA strives to educate the community about mental health while also advocating to create a safe space for students in West Orange, New Jersey. 

Brastos revealed why she started SAMHA and the process behind it over email. She stated, “My primary reason for starting SAMHA was my own personal experience. Almost two years ago there was an incident regarding my teachers and my mental health. While I don’t believe those teachers acted wrong, they most definitely were not trained for situations like mine. Along with wanting to educate, I also felt that students needed a voice when it comes to such a sensitive topic like this. SAMHA became that voice. In terms of starting it, it was not easy. We started as just me and some close friends and had no clue what we were doing. A few months after we were founded SAMHA hosted a recruitment event and reached out to all our contacts within the schools. Since then we’ve just been growing.” 

The presentation revealed that the most common mental illnesses among teens are anxiety and depression.

  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14
  • 50.6% of US youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2016
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34
  • One in six US youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year 

Going over topics such as anxiety, depression, triggers, SAMHA’s presentation gave teachers and students insight on ways to help those struggling with mental illnesses. 

Signs of Anxiety include: 

  • Restlessness (fidgeting, intense knee bouncing, rocking)
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Excessive worrying
  • Agitation
  • Fatigue 

Signs of Depression include:

  • Sadness 
  • Fatigue/Loss of energy 
  • Consistent pessimism 
  • Lost interest or pleasure 
  • Uncontrollable emotions/inappropriate reactions
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate
  • Expressed feelings of worthlessness

Possible Virtual Warning Signs:

  • Sudden drop in grades
  • Low attendance 
  • Falling asleep in class (especially in later classes)
  • Changes in usual behavior 
  • Change in usual class behavior 

Triggers: external events or circumstances that may produce very uncomfortable emotional or psychiatric symptoms and set off a flashback transporting the person back to the event of their original trauma 

How to Help Virtually: 

  • If you identify any warning signs or think a student may be struggling, contact their counselor or SAC 
  • Offer times to talk (office hours)
  • Get student feedback 

The interactive event proved to be a success with many teachers in attendance eager to learn about creating a better learning environment for their students. 

Be sure to follow SAMHA’s accounts to learn more!

Instagram: samha.wo

Twitter: samhawo

Facebook: samha.westorange

Email: [email protected]