If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the entire community to support mental health among students in East Lansing Public Schools. That is the philosophy behind Trojan Mental Health Matters, a new website that provides mental health information and resources to students, teachers, guardians, and the wider East Lansing community. The website represents just one part of a multi-pronged intervention approach being taken by ELPS.
The ELPS Mental Health Advisory Committee hopes the website will engage the entire East Lansing community on mental health.
“The East Lansing community really committed to students in a variety of ways,” Heather Findley, School Social Worker at East Lansing High School and the district’s Mental Health Coordinator, told ELi.
“Students may not want to look to parents [for help with mental health] and may not want to hear about mental health from staff. They may feel more comfortable elsewhere [in the community],” said Findley, who is also a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). That’s why this approach seeks to offer a variety of options for care.
The new website also provides information for adults and youth to help identify signs of possible mental health struggles among students. Visitors can also find resources on types of treatment available, places offering treatment, and online and in-school resources.
The website also contains specific resources for students who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) or members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We want our web to reflect who we are as a school district and be as inclusive as possible,” said ELHS Associate Principal and co-chair of Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC) Matt Morales.
Findley pointed out over 40 percent of ELPS students are persons of color, and the MHAC wanted all students to find positive representation and resources on the new website.
Building the website involved not only considering the entire ELPS community but also forging relationships with MSU.
MHAC partnered with Dr. Kate Birdsall and her students and interns to get the project running. Birdsall teaches nonprofit writing and directs The Cube, a digital publishing and community outreach initiative housed in MSU’s Department of Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures.
During the Fall 2020 semester, she and her class of seventeen students “develop[ed] a communications strategy and a couple of deliverables for what has become Trojan Mental Health Matters” as a final project for her nonprofit writing course.
She introduced the idea to her class after talking to a friend who mentioned the work ELPS was doing to address mental health concerns. When the MHAC saw the end results, they were eager to have The Cube work to develop the website.
Birdsall told ELi that the project was an important one because of its academic value and because “It’s important that we do good work in the world, and this project is doing that good work.”
Several interns tackled the second phase of the project: Emily Lin as senior web designer, Ethan Kolderman as web designer, and Kaylee Mullen as content creator. Mitch Carr, a graduate student, helped keep things on track.
“Mental Health is important for everyone, and some resources can be tough [or] daunting to find. This project serves as a hub for mental health resources,” said Kolderman to ELi, saying he was proud too of how the information on the page is personalized to address the needs of specific groups.
Lin agrees that the personalization of information is key to making the website a success.
“From the custom illustrations to the very layout of the website (which buttons appear first, how the menu is structured), everything about the website is made in the hopes of providing support for fellow Trojans,” wrote Lin to ELi. “The thoughtfulness makes it more than an apathetic list of resources, and in itself is a message of support.”
This support of mental health comes at a crucial moment.
The isolation caused by the pandemic has taken its toll on mental health, particularly in young people. Several students have spoken candidly about their own experiences during public comment at School Board meetings, emphasizing how difficult it has been to stay motivated as the pandemic drags on.
Parents of younger children have likewise found their children struggling to cope with stress and learning in unfamiliar environments.
But the website is just one of several actions taken by the MHAC to provide more support for mental health. During the pandemic, the district has used “mood meters” that ask students to select a word that best describes how they are feeling that day.
Findley said that has enabled her and others to reach out to students who feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or hopeless. In some cases, letting these students know that she was there as a resource made the students feel supported or opened dialogue.
According to Morales, the MHAC has continuously worked to identify systems of support for students, and during the pandemic, it also identified ways to help parents who were balancing remote learning with other responsibilities.
The MHAC has brought families and the community into its support system as they take the attitude that making sure students have even just one trusted adult to talk to can improve mental health.
If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulties with mental health, please call: