Last week I had the honour of being involved in a Mental Health Summit which was organized by Lisa Craveiro and the Jack.org committee at my school, along with Natalie Rovere and the student leads at her school.
It was a day dedicated to eliminating stigma and having open and frank conversations about mental illness.
The morning began with Leah Parsons sharing the story leading up to the suicide death of her daughter. We all sat in stony silence as she shared the details leading to her daughter’s suicide. Parsons urged us to talk about consent with our daughters and sons and the extent to which we can all make a difference when we see something inappropriate shared online.
Sam Fiorelli, another speaker shared the story of his son’s suicide. What was so interesting about his story is that his son was seemingly put together, popular, accomplished, and good looking. and no one actually knew he had mental health issues. After his death, Sam was approached by so many people who shared that Lucas had helped them with their mental health; one even saying that Lucas had even inspHis main message: “One ‘hello’ can start a conversation that saves a life,” He said, “We have the power to connect to those who are suffering in silence and all it takes is a simple ‘hello.'”
For my session I wanted students to talk. They had been talked to for almost two hours and I wanted them to explore the idea of social media and how it contributes to their own mental wellness; but also how it CAN contribute in ways they may not have thought about. I began with 3 random facts (an activity that I saw on Twitter a few weeks earlier). Students shared 3 random facts with one another and then introduced each other to the group. We then played, Like Me (an adaptive schools technique I picked up a million years ago). Students stand up when they hear a statement that reflects a truth about them. The protocol is meant to show participants that they are similar to others in the room; I made sure to include some light and silly ones (I have a ridiculous fear of spiders, I used to have a favourite stuffed animal, etc…). I didn’t have in front of me a class with whom I had developed a relationship; many of the students in the group did not know each other so I needed to make sure they felt comfortable sharing for the main activity.
Next I used a tried-and-true literacy strategy that had helped me chunk reading for students to elicit class discussion. I have always called it a Gallery Walk. I wanted to be sure that I was not initiating or leading the conversation (as we often do as adults) and that students had time to think about what they would say. I had printed out slides and taped them onto chart paper. On the slides I included quotes or images and nothing else. Students, in partners, visited each chart paper with one marker. They needed to:
- read or view what was there;
- talk about what is there and what they think of it;
- agree to write a question, comment, or draw an image.
They moved clockwise in the room, spending about 3 minutes at each station. When they came back to their original, they had to go back around, this time responding to the quotes or questions of others. The prompts were designed to balance positive with negative.
The resulting conversation was so good. The students did most of the talking but I also shared my Social LEADia perspective, which you could tell they never considered. Adults are mostly reinforcing the negative instead of redirecting to what positive things they can do online to help with their mental health. I shared some of the ways technology and social media has connected me to the perspective of others and how when I had a concussion and in the depths of depression, people reached out to me via Twitter and Voxer to check in on how I was doing and how much that meant to me.
We then discussed strategies. Again, students took the lead on this discussion. One student shared how she started following famous photographers instead of only friends and how that has changed what she posts but also what she sees online. Another student shared her journey to recognizing that her true self cannot be affected by the edited self of others. I did have access to a psychology support in case some of the conversations got too personal, which I would recommend.
We ran out of time for the final activity which was to create a poster that represents a positive way teens can act online. I deeply regret this. Conversations are great, but positive action is necessary.
Here is a copy of my slide deck. Please modify it and use it to start your own conversations. If you add something that really works well, please let me know!