South Brunswick High School promotes mental health wellness

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Scott Feder, superintendent of the South Brunswick School District, meets dogs from Attitudes in Reverse, a mental health advocacy agency, during the South Brunswick High School Mental Health and Wellness Fair on April 6.PHOTO COURTESY OF MAURY WOHL
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Meryl Orlando, front left, chairperson of the South Brunswick High School Health and Wellness Fair, and recipient of the Governor's Mental Health Stigma Ambassador Award, talks to school nurse Donna Moreen, front right, advisor to the Students for Public Health Club, at the third annual health fair on April 6.PHOTO COURTESY OF MAURY WOHL
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Scott Feder, superintendent of the South Brunswick School District, meets dogs from Attitudes in Reverse, a mental health advocacy agency, during the South Brunswick High School Mental Health and Wellness Fair on April 6.PHOTO COURTESY OF MAURY WOHL
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Meryl Orlando, front left, chairperson of the South Brunswick High School Health and Wellness Fair, and recipient of the Governor's Mental Health Stigma Ambassador Award, talks to school nurse Donna Moreen, front right, advisor to the Students for Public Health Club, at the third annual health fair on April 6.PHOTO COURTESY OF MAURY WOHL

SOUTH BRUNSWICK – Although South Brunswick High School has many well-developed programs and experienced staff to address adolescents’  mental health issues, Meryl Orlando was worried.

“What about the students who don’t know where to go or are too afraid to knock on a counselor’s door when they feel sad or anxious?” Orlando said in a statement prepared by SBHS.

A teacher in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, Orlando was inspired to create a fun, educational, interactive event to address this need: the third annual Mental Health Wellness Fair was held at the high school on April 6.

“Stop the Stigma … Stamp out the Stress,” the theme of the celebration, expresses the dual purpose of the fair. While some students struggle with serious mental health issues during adolescence, many more experience heightened periods of stress during their high school years, according to the statement.

Activities included therapy dogs provided by Attitudes in Reverse, a mental health advocacy group; a bicycle hooked up to a blender on a smoothie machine; the making of stress balls; crocheting; and aromatherapy.

Information was available from local treatment programs, such as Princeton House and GenPsych.

Ben Brisson, director of the Bridge Program which is located at the high school and staffed by clinicians from Rutgers, said important connections were made at previous fairs.

“Amidst all of the fun, some students found help that they might have felt too timid to seek out on their own,” he said in the statement.

Last year, more than 600 students stopped outside the lunchroom as their physical education teachers brought their classes to participate, giving all of the students the clear message that talking about mental health should be as acceptable as physical well-being, according to the statement.

Teachers, nurses, guidance counselors and child study team members, are part of the Fair Committee that also includes Amy Finkelstein, supervisor of Student Assistance and Wellness, and Aaron Millman, student assistance counselor. Students played a significant  role in planning the fair, including a large group from the Students for Public Health Club and Viking Volunteers.

Local businesses provided support for the effort, including Whole Foods, Target, Chartwells, and Princeton Fitness and Wellness Center.

After an article about the fair appeared last year in the New Jersey Education Association Review, several schools contacted Orlando for help in starting their own mental health fairs. She is one of the school-based professionals who will be honored by the New Jersey Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma on April 19 at the Ramada Plaza Conference Center in Monroe.