By Isabella Keyon ('24)
South Brunswick High School’s annual Mental Health Fair is to be held Friday, April 1. The fair is organized by Kids teacher, Ms. Meryl Orlando, who has been running it since 2016 when it first launched. The fair consists of fun activities such as coloring tables, stress ball making, and smoothie bikes.
Additionally, students can pet therapy dogs and watch a hip-hop psychologist. At the last in-person fair, there were roughly 900 attendees, a vast increase from the 400 students who attended the first fair. Given that this is the first in-person fair since “Lockdown” in 2020, Ms. Orlando is hopeful for a greater turnout.
Ms. Orlando said that the goals of the Mental Health Fair are “to provide resources that students might not be aware of, to have students start these conversations with people, and to make mental health wellness as important and as common as physical health.”
She aims to normalize mental illness and struggles amongst teens and noted, “There's still a huge stigma. It's getting better the more we talk about it. The more people say it out loud the less they feel isolated and weird.”
Ms. Orlando described the fair as “a day of celebration. It’s a celebration of our mental health. It's a celebration of us as human beings. Of having this part of us that needs to be spoken about and acknowledged.” Creating a safe space for students to get help and feel accepted is mainly what the Mental Health Fair accomplishes.
Roughly 88% of SBHS students surveyed said they felt more anxious at school.
Junior Delali Kumapleysaid, “The pressures of being a student and a growing teenager, in general, are heightened in junior year. Not only do we as students have to balance growing and shifting relationships, but many of us also enter junior year unprepared to handle the stress of difficult classes, the SAT/ACT, APs, thinking about college and the future.”
Other students expressed similar feelings, claiming that the root of their anxiety was from assignments and grades. SAT testing, course assessments, and overwhelming assignments seem to be a commonality amongst students. A frequent issue presented in the responses was the pressure teachers put on students.
Junior Alyssa Lauri said, “I think teachers could definitely be more aware of the workload their students have, and the amount of pressure they are feeling. It should be made known to students that missing one deadline isn’t the worst thing in the world, and that teachers making it seem like they are can cause added pressure.”
Overall, students felt that lenience and support from staff and, more specifically, teachers would be beneficial in relieving anxiety.
Only about 13% of students that responded to the survey were aware of the upcoming Mental Health Fair. Although it has been held annually since 2016, it seems as though the fair is not adequately promoted at school and by staff members. 75% of students had never been to the fair before, however, students that had attended the fair found it to be beneficial.
Junior Sana Fathima, said “In-person mental health fairs were actually really fun because they provided amazing services. One year there was a natural essential oil stand where they provided you with relaxing scents. That was definitely a fan favorite.”
Overwhelmingly, students agreed that they needed support and resources to be shared at school. If more teachers promoted it and students were aware of the mental health fair that support would be provided.
About 85% of students claimed they either planned to attend or were considering attending the Mental Health Fair when made aware of it. From the results of the survey, it is clear that SBHS’s students crave mental health support. The Mental Health Fair could prove beneficial in providing students with the resources they need to better themselves. With this in mind, more students may be inclined to attend the fair this year.