Our Minds Matter Leadership Training

By Our Minds Matter
January 22, 2021

For many, Sundays are for football, worship, or trying to not think about anything related to school and work. It is the last refuge before a Monday, a sanctuary day when no one is supposed to do anything for as long as they can. 

Yet on Sunday, January 10, we saw the next generation of mental health activists come into their own on the zoom stream. Our Minds Matter hosted its Winter Leadership Training where over 75 students from 45 schools across the country joined to learn about how they can end the stigma against mental health in their school environments. 

There were 30 students from the following Fairfax County high schools in attendance: Annandale, Chantilly, Edison, Hayfield, Lake Braddock, Langley, Madison, Marshall, McLean, Mount Vernon, Oakton, Thomas Jefferson, Westfield, and Woodson. Each student is a leader of an Our Minds Matter club and together with other student leaders and members, they work together to promote mental wellness and increase access to mental health support among their student body. These clubs have the potential to save lives and change the story around mental health; over 80% of participating students in OMM’s summer 2020 wellness series reported an improved sense of well-being from the program.

Led by Laura Beth Levitt and Catherine Royston of the Our Minds Matter program team, OMM’s club network has seen explosive growth through its mixture of competent mental health wellness programming and peer-to-peer club model that allows teens to really become leaders of their own social movement. Student leaders work hand in hand with school officials, teachers, and mental health experts to help them speak out about their mental health issues and find adequate support. As COVID-19 has increased rates of depression and anxiety among teens according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Our Minds Matter is working with teens to counteract the next public health crisis before it occurs. 

The training touched on different aspects of leadership development, teaching students to be attentive leaders in the administrative responsibilities of their club, as well as building their interpersonal skills. A panel of student leaders presented tips, tricks, and challenges on the following topics: student recruitment, leveraging OMM resources, making online meetings interactive, school-wide campaigns, and leadership transition planning. Three of the five student leaders on the panel included FCPS students from Edison, Westfield, and Woodson High School. 

The most exciting part of the leadership training was seeing how each of these teens valued making a difference overall. During the question-and-answer section of the program, student leaders were asked about what they hoped for most in 2021 and their answers were powerful:

  • To be someone people can talk to in my community.
  • To bridge divides between people and communities.
  • To normalize the discussion of mental health.
  • To create a community for everyone to feel safe and welcome.
  • To build a life where I feel I made a difference.
  • To be a hotline for someone in need.
  • To leave behind a club that can make an even more long lasting impact.

Students view themselves as part of a larger movement that is building a world where mental health is treated with the importance it deserves. These student leaders directly see how their work needs longevity, that the change must persist after they graduate and embark on the next chapter of their lives.

This is the level of civic engagement that Our Minds Matter promotes. We work with teens to help them realize their own power to influence social change. We already have young leaders hosting townhalls, working with government officials to provide more mental health support, and challenging long-standing norms around mental health. 

The session ended with a mindfulness exercise that focused on self-compassion. The calming energy could be felt even over Zoom.

This is all to build a world where no teen dies by suicide. Our Minds Matter student leaders are going to make a difference in 2021. We should all be in their corner, providing them support to succeed. Contact program@ourmindsmatter.org to get more information about how to get involved.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis, text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 911.

The Healthy Minds Blog shares information related to youth mental health and wellness for an audience of parent, educators and community-based providers. Articles include tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.

The Healthy Minds Blog is a collaborative project between Fairfax County Public Schools and the Prevention Unit of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. It is part of the Healthy Minds Fairfax (see below) initiative, designed to support emotional wellness in youth and families.

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