Active Minds – New Student-Led Mental Health Chapter at High School

Image credit: Active Minds

Yesterday the Owl visited (virtually) with Nate Icke ’21, founder of the new chapter of Active Minds at Weston High School. Nate is what we would term a “lifer” in Weston; he was born here and attended the Weston public school system all the way through. He’s a varsity sports athlete in soccer, basketball and baseball. He is the president of the senior class.

What is not apparent to most of us is that Nate suffers from depression. In a February 23 School Committee meeting, Nate spoke about his and his classmates’ struggles with isolation and depression during the pandemic. It is a struggle that Nate himself has been involved in for years–and is now lifting his voice to help others. And he is asking the support of the community in de-stigmatizing mental health issues.

Nate speaking (second from left bottom) at February 23, 2021 School Committee

The 2020-2021 school year with its reduced hours and hybrid program,the Remote Learning Academy, and the anxiety of a global pandemic has torn the fabric of Weston’s student body. The worst-affected may be the seniors, who lost and continue to lose traditions that have gone on for years. Morale has declined precipitously.

“A lot of people feel very alone when depressed,” said Nate. “And adding to it, they are deathly afraid of people knowing that they are depressed. They don’t want to be judged for it.”

Active Minds – It’s Ok not to be OK

We believe no one should have to struggle alone. By empowering young adults to speak openly about mental health, we can reduce stigma, encourage help-seeking, and prevent suicides.” – Active Minds website

Active Minds Weston all started with a conversation between Nate and Paul Peri, the principal of Weston High School, and then onwards to discussions with Erin Foley, Student Adjustment Counselor of the Compass program. Erin was familiar with Active Minds and helped prepare grant paperwork–as Nate said, she knows more about what can and can’t be done at school due to privacy rules.

There are more than 550 student-led Active Minds chapters nationwide. In Weston, Active Minds is not yet official. Final approvals have not been given, but the grant has been submitted to KyleCares, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting open and honest communication about the mental health challenges experienced by teens and young adults.

“Weston is a pretty stressful school system,” says Nate. “Many of us feel a lot of pressure and anxiety about colleges, about grades and if we’re falling behind.” An Active Minds group will be a break from the pressure, and a way to be okay with not always feeling on top of the world.

“Students who may seem okay to parents or other adults may not be okay, and peers can recognize sometimes when others can’t.”

Two organizing meetings have already taken place, and officers of the club elected. So far, Nate says, there are between 20-25 students coming to these meetings, and it’s a mix of upperclassmen and freshmen–they are already doing succession planning for when the seniors will graduate.

The Active Minds chapter is thinking now of a “green bandanna project”– people will wear or attach green bandannas to their backpacks or purses to be recognized as mental health allies. Knowing who is open to supporting someone who is feeling isolated might be their first step to getting help.

“How can we as a town help?” asked the Owl.

“Everyone in Weston can help others’ mental health and isolation,” said Nate. “It takes de-stigmatizing it. I am not defined by depression–it is only a small part of me.”

A famous Fred Rogers quote goes like this: “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” I know where the helpers are at the high school now. Thank you, Nate Icke and all those inspiring a new way at looking at mental health.

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