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'I want to be there for them:' 200 NEPA students receive mental health training to help their peers

The Citizens' Voice - 10/31/2023

Oct. 31—SCRANTON — Desthiny Reyes sees her friends struggle with anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression. She watches the mental health issues impact her friends' schoolwork and relationships.

"I want to be there for them," the West Scranton High School junior said. "I want to bring everyone together. If you know anyone struggling, please speak up."

Desthiny and 200 students from 20 high schools came together on Monday, seeking ways to better support the mental health of their peers and foster more acceptance and understanding in their school communities.

The Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit hosted the event at Scranton High School, with attendees seeking to establish Aevidum clubs at their schools.

Aevidum, a name derived from the Latin phrase "I've got your back," is a national youth-led movement that aims to foster a culture of empathy, acceptance and support within schools. Through Aevidum, students are encouraged to openly discuss mental health, break down stigma and build a network of peers who are ready to provide support to those in need. The Moses Taylor Foundation and the Scranton Area Community Foundation provided funding for the local initiative.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the need for student mental health services and fostered more awareness. The NEIU, which has a mental health consortium, found that schools sought more student-led efforts, said Eliza Vagni, NEIU director of educational programs and services.

In small groups throughout Scranton High's auditorium on Monday, students thought about ways they could have an impact.

"This generation of students is much more comfortable and well-versed in talking about mental health," said Elizabeth Hemphill, Scranton supervisor of mental health programs.

Some schools, including Riverside and Elk Lake, already have Aevidum clubs. Elk Lake, which started the club three years ago, has 50 members filled with energy and optimism, school counselor Emma Keyes said.

Aahmir Massey, a sophomore at Old Forge, wants more students to talk about mental health.

"We need to get rid of the stigma," he said. "It's not being weak or not tough. If you need help, you need help. There's nothing wrong with that."

Contact the writer:

shofius@scrantontimes.com

570-348-9133, @hofiushallTT

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