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Students find creative way to look at mental health

By Reid Creager
Correspondent

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  • See the video

    Watch the public service announcement video (and wait for the significant ending) at bit.ly/15glmKs.



Final exams were approaching. Year-end papers were due. So it would have been easy for a group of Mooresville High School students to simply meet the requirements in their Movies & Medicine elective and forget about it.

Instead, eight girls from Woodlawn School collaborated on a dramatic mental health public service announcement that promises to remain in the public eye for a while.

The goal of the 3-minute video is to address the stigma associated with mental health problems. The PSA immediately drew rave reviews from faculty, family and friends; was featured on DavidsonNews.net; and is to appear soon on the national website Mental Health America.

The students who worked on the project are graduating senior Allie Nagelski, rising senior Sydney Bowman, rising juniors Tyler Ganis, Ciara Conway and Clare MacDonald and rising sophomores Arianna Hoshino, Taylor Scott and Alivia Weddington.

“I find that film is most powerful when it has some kind of emotional impact on people,” said Arianna of Cornelius, who did the editing. “That’s what really makes people say, ‘Wow, this is great, you have to see this.’ That’s how word spreads. …

“There were just a lot of people who felt touched by this and that we really did what we aimed for.”

“I can see how it resonated with so many folks,” said teacher Kendall Evans. “And they all had a voice, which was such a cool thing.”

The stark black-and-white film depicts the insecurity, fear and loneliness of mental health problems. One by one, a girl wearing a different mental health issue on a name tag takes off her tag and shows it to the camera.

“Instead of just reciting information and facts, we wanted to convey something that’s more palatable to the everyday person,” said Clare, of Huntersville. “We wanted to do something that was eye-catching, aesthetic.

“We talked a lot in our group about how mental health doesn’t get as much attention as, like, diabetes or breast cancer because it’s more gray in terms of what we know about it. ... A lot of people don’t take it as seriously as they should, and it is a growing problem.”

How it happened

Students in Evans’ class were asked to choose a movie or TV show with a medical theme, which led to classroom discussions. Evans noticed that mental health was a constant in their selections, so he assigned them to produce a PSA. Students then conducted research that included panel discussions with local professionals.

The class had 11 students, including three boys who did a separate PSA. The eight girls quickly discovered the difficulty of agreeing on the format and presentation of their video.

“We’re all very powerful personalities,” said Ciara of Davidson. “It was just hard for everyone to focus in on one specific topic and get everything organized so that we could actually sit down and get it done.”

Sydney, of Cornelius, estimated that the project took a few hours a week over the course of a month. In the end, “we were really all equally represented in terms of our ideas,” she said. “We got together and had a discussion about which ideas were best and what we wanted to do. It really was a collaborative effort.”

Perhaps the girls’ biggest challenge was to try to sensitively and accurately represent a mental illness during their few seconds on the screen without making it seem like a stereotype – and pressure to finish the project.

Because the girls were also cautious not to offend anyone, and are cognizant of the complex nature of some mental illnesses, they used name tags to make it objective.

Said Ciara, who had the schizophrenia name tag: “When I was trying to embody that, I didn’t want it to seem like I was making fun of it because I don’t have that. It’s hard for me to be in someone’s shoes who I’ve never met before and I’ve only researched online about.

“It’s hard to portray, because not everybody with a certain mental illness is the same.”

The girls’ attention to detail in the PSA was heightened by their life experiences. Some have family members or friends with mental health challenges; at least one of the eight has an issue of her own.

No one-time thing

Motivated by their work on the project, the reaction and what they learned about mental health, many of the girls are contemplating a future in the field.

“Before this elective, I didn’t really think too much about mental health,” Sydney said. “I think this project helped me see this in a new perspective.”

Clare had committed to working at a summer camp with students who have special needs.

“There’s so much we don’t know,” she said. “It’s up to our generation to pursue it and try to see if we can determine the underlying causes of these issues.”

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