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First lady talks mental health with Westfield High School students

First Lady talks teen mental health

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — Westfield High School students on Wednesday asked the nation’s first lady and its top doctor to consider teens’ voices in the nation’s mental health policies.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy visited Westfield as part of a series of back-to-school events across the country. Westfield High School received $400,000 from last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to provide on-site outpatient mental health services to students. They met with members of the school’s chapter of Robbie’s Hope, a nationwide nonprofit that seeks to reduce teen suicides and address their mental health struggles.

Club member Elyse Menzel, who just started her senior year at Westfield High School, said she joined the club in part because of her own mental health struggles in the past, as well as those of her friends. She said she wanted Biden and Murthy to understand the importance of teen voices in the mental health debate.

“Having the first lady be able to talk to us and make sure that our voices are known directly to her was really important to all of the club members,” said Menzel.

A 2020 study by the Indiana Youth Institute found nearly 1 in 5 Indiana 10th graders had contemplated suicide. State health officials say suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Hoosiers ages 10 to 34. Biden said Westfield High School’s programs, including the Robbie’s Hope chapter, show the importance of peer connections.

“Never underestimate your power to help, to hope, and to heal,” said Biden. “You’re shining a light into the darkness.”

Murthy, who lost an uncle to suicide when he was in high school, said the youth mental health crisis is one of the defining issues of today. He said the willingness of the current generation of young people to openly discuss their mental health struggles provides examples and encouragement to older generations who face their own struggles, but still carry stigmas against talking about them. Murthy compared today’s mental health movement to the March on Washington, the 60th anniversary of which was observed on Saturday.

“What it’s going to take to address the mental health crisis in our country is nothing short of a movement,” said Murthy. “(Policy decisions) have to be accompanied by a culture shift, by us changing how we think about mental health, and how we talk about mental health.”

Following their prepared remarks, Biden and Murthy asked the room full of students, parents, and teachers what they wanted to see done. Senior Maya Davis says teachers and administrators should train in different ways to communicate with teens who appear to be struggling and are reluctant to talk about their troubles. Jetta Hayes, a sophomore, said she’s seen social media posts that appear to promote unhealthy behaviors, such as eating disorders. Hayes says she would like to see tougher regulations around such content, such as trigger warnings.

Menzel said she wants to continue her mental health advocacy after she graduates from high school. She said she’s considering a career as a physical therapist or a genetic counselor, and wants to incorporate what she has learned about mental health into the care she would provide. She said she also wants to join a club similar to the Robbie’s Hope chapter when she goes to college, or start one of her own.