Red Ribbon Week Educates Students on Mental Health and Drug Use

St. Margaret’s health and wellness initiatives took the spotlight during Red Ribbon and Mental Health Week last week, as Upper and Middle School students listened to speakers, attended symposiums led by health professionals, and learned more about various aspects of mental and physical well-being.

Red Ribbon Week is a nationwide initiative to raise awareness about the importance of a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. This year, St. Margaret’s added a mental health element to the week’s activities.

“The purpose behind this was twofold,” said all-school counselor Janice Avalone, who organized Red Ribbon Week along with all-school counselor Jeremy Dailey. “Substance use is usually the negative coping for a larger issue often related to mental health. Educating our students on mental health issues can also break down the stigma and encourage students to seek help if they need to.”

In the Upper School, students chose to attend one of 13 presentations on a variety of topics ranging from stress, anxiety, self-care, depression, mindfulness, drug use and more. The speakers were family therapists, medical doctors and representatives from organizations like the Renewed Freedom Center and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“The response was enormously positive from students, who thought the topics were very relatable,” Dr. Avalone said.

The speakers included St. Margaret’s alumna Kelsey Leedom Nunziata ’05, a psychologist who presented an alumni perspective on stress, anxiety and perfectionism to current students.

In addition to the speakers, Upper School students listened as a peer spoke about depression during Chapel, and had a “Drugs Out Cookout” to encourage students that they can have fun without drugs and alcohol.

In the Middle School, students heard from a panel focused on vaping and marijuana use and how the substances affect a person’s physical and mental health. The panel included Ryan Roemer, manager of adolescent mental health and psychiatric emergency triage services at Mission Hospital; Susan Parmalee, executive director of the Wellness and Prevention Center, and Blair Veraza, a health educator with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

“We are thinking about this work from many angles, especially prevention. In our health and wellness efforts, though, we also think about addressing and supporting student mental and physical crisis situations that can occur at school or at home,” said Dr. Avalone. “We have recently partnered with the Orange County Children and Youth Behavioral Health (CYBH), which offers the service of a Crisis Assessment Team, a 24-seven mobile crisis unit made up of licensed mental health professionals who can assist parents and educators with crisis situations. This service is another safety measure our school has adopted in our ultimate goal to keep our community safe.”

Parents are encouraged to keep the 24-hour Orange County CAT Hotline in their contacts: 866.830.6011. For any questions on this work, please reach out to Dr. Avalone or Mr. Dailey.
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An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California