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Center Moriches High School uses a variety of programs to assist students struggling with mental health issues

Breaking the Stigma: Children and Mental Health -- A CBS2 Special
Breaking the Stigma: Children and Mental Health -- A CBS2 Special 22:00

CENTER MORICHES, N.Y. - Students spoke out about their mental health issues with CBS2's Cindy Hsu, alongside I Will Graduate. 

Students' anxieties ranged from dealing with stress at school to tacking problems in their personal lives. 

That idea was on display at a roundtable on Long Island's Center Moriches High School. 

Students shared their feelings with one another, and in the process, they found another source of strength. 

CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis spoke with Center Moriches High School students Laniyah Franklin, Gabby DeAngelis, Megan Magill, Noelle Jordan, Austin Faller, Jack Breutsch, Christiana Brackett, Destiny Blackwood, Ryan Standard, and Isabella Rayburn. 

DeAngelis: Being a teenager is fun and exciting, but there's no doubt it's challenging and you probably face challenges very different from myself or your teachers when we were in your shoes. So, I want to have an open discussion with you guys about mental health — mental health is an important part of our overall health. I first want to ask you, what do you think contributes to overall mental health struggles for teens?

Gabby: Sports.

Laniyah: Schoolwork.

Gabby: Social media.

Megan: Just, like, an overload of stuff we have to do throughout the day, like a day-to-day basis. 

The pressure of it all is a common theme with both groups of students DeAngelis sat down with at Center Moriches High School, with a focus on social media. 

Gabby: I feel like social media sets a certain standard. 

Austin: It raises the bar a lot. 

Christiana: You never know what's going to pop up on your feed, what you could read and how it can affect you, the things you see. 

Ryan: Trying to fit in with everybody and trying to be as popular as everyone else. 

DeAngelis: How do you cope with social media? Do you ever take breaks from it?

Laniyah: It's really important to take breaks, when you're constantly on social media you compare yourself to people. 

Megan: My parents didn't let me have certain social media until I was older, and at the time I would complain about it... but now I'm just so thankful that I didn't experience it until an older age. 

DeAngelis: I want to read a statistic. A 2021 study from the CDC found nearly 60% of female students and nearly 70% of LGBTQ+ students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Does this come as a surprise to you?

Students: No.

Both groups of students say the pandemic played a big part, explaining the isolation weighed on them. To help the students, Center Moriches High School has various programs and clubs centered around mental health and well-being.

A program called "Runch" gave the students the option to gather and get exercise, rather than just sit around at lunch. 

"Making new friends, becoming more social," said junior Matt Hernandez. 

"It's where I can forget about school and just, like, decompress ," said junior Lucas Dias Da Silva Oliveira. 

"They feel better physically. They feel better mentally. They feel better emotionally. So it's kind of like a little serotonin release for them in a way," said math teacher Jarad Vollkommer, head of the Runch program. 

Then, there's "Goal Getters," a more structured program run by Vice Principal Katy Forman, using the weight room to focus on meeting physical and academic goals. 

"I felt like I needed to be a part of something like this, because I personally struggled with depression," said freshman Ava Russo. "I've seen myself being more happy, wanting to come here more, wanting to complete more of my work." 

"In the start of this year, I kind of got into some trouble, and was going through a really hard time and going here every day," said junior Raymond Gray. "Really helped me and improve not only with my school academics abut also with my home life." 

For those who prefer a different outlet, there's "Mindfulness & Yoga." From breath work to journaling, the club offers students tools to cope with anxiety and stress. 

"I think it reminds them they have agency over how they feel, they can control their anxiety a little better... and that wherever they are, they can use these tools," said teacher Kiera Gaudioso. 

Marissa Mangogna, the school's principal, says in a short time these programs are making a difference. 

"It's working, because I'm seeing the results in behavior, academics and attendance," Mangogna said. "At school we should be a safe space. We should be a safe place for them. We should be somewhere they don't dread to go, but they get excited to go and that's what we're finding." 

Those sentiments are echoed by students who feel the support. 

Destiny: It really changes your school day when your not just in class going through the motions, you have other stuff to look forward to.

Austin: The openness, allowing to go to one of our faculty and being able to talk to them.

DeAngelis: I want you to help us, help you.  If I'm a parent and I'm concerned about my child's well being, how do you think I should approach my child?

Destiny: Be relatable... it might not be what you say, but how you say it. You can just be like, 'Oh, I noticed you've been coming and going straight to your room, is there anything that's bothering you?' Instead of being like 'All you do is come home, get on your phone.' You don't have to be like that. 

Noelle: I think just being open and honest. Yes, they are your parent, but sometimes they have to be that friend you need to just openly talk to.

Jack: I think just letting your kid know, no matter what it is, no matter what you're going through, no matter how bad it is, like, you can come to us and talk to us and we won't get mad at you. 

DeAngelis: How important is it to you all that mental health is prioritized?

Noelle: I think it's extremely important, but I think the most important thing is normalizing it. 

Destiny: It helps everyone realize that mental health struggles are real. It affects everyone, everywhere. 

Isabella: I think it's also important that we're breaking the stigma. I feel like there's such a stigma around mental health, and I never really struggled with it until this year. So just having people who are willing to listen and talk to you about it, and help you through it, it's a lot and really makes a difference.

Sitting side by side, knowing they're not alone, there's power in that. 

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