Chaparral seniors share mental health experiences with freshmen, helping school suicide prevention efforts
Exactly one year ago this week, Chaparral High School senior, Charlie Beller, knew he wasn’t himself. He was not feeling clear mentally nor spiritually, and he was under tremendous pressure socially and academically. He decided to check himself into a behavioral health clinic and take a leave of absence, where he was able to focus on himself. He felt his world slow down almost to a complete stop. It was the peaceful reprieve he needed.
Beller shared his story with Chaparral freshmen on Wednesday during a one-hour presentation focused on student self-empowerment, resiliency and suicide prevention.
“One of the most important things is to listen to your emotion and what your emotion is telling you. Do not ignore it, it’s there for a reason, I promise,” he told the students.
He added, “Please, please, please do not be afraid to talk about your emotions. When I was a freshman I was afraid to talk about my emotions. People are going to say, ‘you’re soft.’ I used to get called soft all the time and my reaction was, ‘you know what, I’m not going to talk about my emotions anymore.’ But if we can learn to talk about our emotions and what they are telling us, we will be able to achieve great things, because our emotions are going to push us in the direction we need to be. They are going to teach us who we need to be as individuals.”
The content of the school’s presentation was rooted in Sources of Strength, a model that many DCSD middle and high schools utilize as a student resiliency and suicide prevention tool, which harnesses the power of student social networks and influence.
This is the third year Chaparral is embedding Sources of Strength into the school’s culture. Eric Mullens, Chaparral’s counseling department chair who has been with the school since its first graduating class, worked with his counseling team and Chaparral principal, Greg Gotchey, to bring Sources of Strength to the school following three student deaths that occurred a few years ago.
“Sometimes a bad day can become more than a bad day,” Mullens explained to the freshmen during the presentation. “We need to remember first of all this is a small fraction of time in our lives. But secondly, we need to remember our strengths— generosity, spirituality, positive friends, family support, mental health, medical access, and healthy activities. If we can remember those, then we’ll be okay.”
One major theme of the presentation was encouraging the students to identify who they can rely on when times get tough, whether those individuals are family members, peers, coaches, or other mentors.
Senior Kirstie June, talked openly with the students about her eating disorder, recovery process, and how she can rely on her mentor, Chaparral Junior Varsity Poms Coach, Kaylee Newton.
“I was afraid I was going to die. I was in that stage where I knew there was a problem but I didn’t want to do anything about it. Once I stepped in the doors of the eating disorder unit, I knew that was the place I needed to be,” June explained. “Recovery is a never-ending battle. But over time you learn to become stronger and fight back. Someone with an eating disorder can never become fully cured.”
June said she’s at a point now where her disorder isn’t as loud for her as it used to be, but every now and then that voice pries its way back into her mind.
“Coach Kaylee is always there for me to bring me back to reality when I get lost. Throughout the season there will be random times when I will be having a hard time with my eating disorder. Kaylee lets me have my phone next to me during practice so I can text the Eating Disorder Crisis Line. She puts my mental health needs before the task in front of me. After almost every practice, I sit down with her and talk about what is stressing me out. She’s a very good listener and doesn’t tell me to get over it or just ignore it. I feel very comfortable talking to her. I still see a therapist, but Coach Kaylee is my mentor.”