An initiative created by singer Lady Gaga will soon be shared in Chicago Public Schools to make sure teens are getting help amid a pandemic that has deepened an existing mental health crisis.
Chicago Public Schools officials are launching the campaign for teachers and counselors to help students in 7th-12th grade identify struggles and encourage them to seek assistance if they need it, the district announced Tuesday.
“We’re incredibly excited to use this opportunity to have an open and honest conversation with our young people around mental health, and truly try to destigmatize it and make sure we’ve identified the supports available to them inside their buildings,” said Michael Roy, who works on student supports in CPS’ Title IX Department and is helping lead the initiative.
“If people are feeling stigma and shame around mental health, they are less likely to reach out for help,” he said. “And we know that the earlier someone reaches out for help upon the onset of a mental health challenge, the faster their recovery time is.”
The initiative doesn’t eliminate the need for more mental health professionals in schools and is unlikely to end the calls for CPS to commit more resources toward the issue — particularly as reports have shown teenage mental health struggles and suicides rose during the pandemic. But it’s a piece of the puzzle, Roy said, that also helps identify existing supports that students may not know are available.
CPS officials believe they’re the first in the country to implement on a district-wide scale the initiative by the Born This Way Foundation started by Lady Gaga and her mother and the Find Your Anchor movement aimed at suicide prevention, awareness, and education.
“Young people are facing very real mental health challenges and we need to meet them with kind, compassionate messages, and helpful resources,” Maya Smith, Born This Way Foundation’s executive director, said in a statement. “We are grateful for partners like Chicago Public Schools for working to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental health and validate the emotions of young people.”
Schools received materials last week to facilitate the program, including a guide for teachers to address mental health with students and pledge cards for teens to sign agreeing to “stay alive, and reach out for support if needed.”
“Even when the world seems to stop spinning, I promise I will keep going. I promise to keep fighting. I promise to reach out when I need support. I promise to stay here,” the pledges read.
Classes will also watch a video featuring CPS students talking about mental health, followed by a 20-minute activity led by a teacher or counselor brainstorming ways to create healthy habits.
“[We want to] equip young people with the self-care and mental health resources before they separate for summer vacation,” Roy said. “We know that summer can be really fun, it can be an adventure for a lot of people, but it can also be a hard time for students as they leave the structure and the other safety nets of a school.”