Op-Ed: Mental Health is a Serious (Expletive) Problem, Meet of McMahon's Most Determined Trying to Change That
By: Austin Keller
Pridetime Senior Editor
W hen I first came in to interview for this op-ed, the thing that caught my eye was the thick stack of papers on her desk, under the dingy fluorescent lighting. The rainy Monday had only added to the cave-like feeling of the room.
For an office named, ‘Kids In Crisis,’ I was a little alarmed by just how many files there were, each unique to the student - the reason they ended up in her room at one point.
The vast majority of McMahons’ students will never meet Meghan Grasso, but for those who do, she may make all the difference. She is not a Norwalk Public Schools employee, but last year she was dispatched to the school as a TeenTalk Counselor on behalf of the Kids In Crisis program. Created in Greenwich, it attempts to serve minors in need with Crisis Intervention, any unsafe situation that needs help, fast. Masters-educated Mental Health counselors, like Grasso, are sent to local high schools. They do what they’re trained to do which is identifying at risk, depressed, anxious, traumatized, substance abusing students and sits down to talk to them.
The Zen garden on the coffee table, scented candles, tissue box, and rug-sized sweaters are just about anything and everything you might expect to find in a therapist's office. I’m a cynical kind of person, however, I’m having a tough time poking any holes in this. You can tell early on this isn't the office of some fifth avenue Manhattan, self-aggrandizing $250 an hour psychiatrist- this is where real kids with real struggles, and seemingly no one else to turn to, are welcomed with open arms.
It’s free, it’s confidential - and in the midst of a growing teenage mental health epidemic - it’s vital.
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates in the last eight years have jumped in all fifty states, an average of thirty percent. In more than half of these, the victim were never diagnosed with a mental health condition. It has happened twice as much as homicides in the US in the last three years. It is now the second leading cause of death of teenagers, increasing by seventy-seven percent in the last five years.
In 2017, 11.4 per 100,000 teens took their lives.
A study of American Medical Association Hospitals, released in May, found that likely reasons are, spotty mental health screening, and poor access to mental health services. Spotty at times can be an understatement. Grasso detailed just how difficult accessing treatment can be for clients at local pediatric care centers that her program collaborates with to patch kids through care.
“Some of them have to wait weeks to see a psychiatrist just once. I had one girl who had to wait, like, six months for an appointment. That’s what’s frustrating about the mental health system.” What is most troubling, to me at least, is that the same study found another significant reason people don’t seek treatment is stigma. Grasso demands that this needs to be stopped by, “making it less taboo, people never see me because they think there’s something wrong with them, or they're weird if they do.”
Last year, teachers underwent Professional Development Training for risk-identifying and trauma-informed care, said Grasso. “We’re trying to be more empathetic… less like ‘hey, what’s wrong with you?’”
But Grasso can not possibly stop this alone. Her outreach can only extend so far. Those who seek her out are the overwhelming minority, and for them alone she has a lot on her plate.
She even told me when I interviewed her on Monday, that had I been a kid looking to schedule an appointment, her only next availability was the Tuesday of next week. At some point, we as a school community, one that takes pride in its inclusivity, have to take on some of the load in those eight days.
It would be wrong of me to suggest that at McMahon we haven’t done anything to alleviate this, but it would be really convenient, and really naive, to say that we’ve all done enough. We can do better. Kids in Crisis tells us to welcome the conversation and be more open to talking about it.
“The truth is everyone is going through something at one point or another,” Grasso asserts.
Anyone and everyone in the building needs to learn the signs, and how to do the hardest part of Meghan Grasso’s job, reach out.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the hotline: 203-661-1911
For years, the bathrooms at BMHS have been an issue. Doors that don’t lock, cracked toilet seats, toilet paper wads stuck to the ceiling, dented and dirty mirrors–you name it, we had it. Had it not been for one student, senior Class President Victoria McCaffrey, who brought this to the attention of our principal, many of these issues would remain unresolved.
How do you feel using the bathrooms here? It’s a question that the majority of the student body would respond negatively to.
I, myself, asked some students this very question. Senior Maryland Velazquez replied, “I feel nasty and disgusted because it always smells funny and is barely clean.” Junior Amanda Clark followed this response with a very passionate rant: “Look at the ceiling. They [the paper towels] have been on the ceiling since last year. Every mirror, how did they get like that!? It always stinks, they need to put some fresheners in here.”
It is evident that the dysfunctional bathrooms have annoyed many students which is why McCaffrey took action. While attending a School Governance Council meeting with parents, Hurwitz and faculty, McCaffrey brought to their attention problems with our bathrooms. She said they didn’t seem to be aware of it and so she decided to collect data to show them the damage that needed to be repaired.
“So, the next day [after the meeting] I went during my study hall to all of the bathrooms in the school. It was me and my notepad and pen. I would go into the bathroom and draw out what it looked like. I would go into each of the stalls and close it and lock it and if it didn’t lock I’d write it down. There were over fifty bathroom stalls that I went to,” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey gave her list to Hurwitz who then passed it onto Maintenance. Most of the things on McCaffrey’s list have been changed, such as the replacement of the cracked toilet seats, the realignment and replacement of some, but not all locks, and the “Out of Order” stall in the girls bathroom by the lobby which is back in use. She went above and beyond to make much needed change happen.
However, not all of the issues are up to the school to fix. From toilet paper wads stuck to the ceiling to horrible things written on the walls of the stalls, there are lots of things that need change, but that change starts with us, the students.
When asked about what we students could do to improve the quality of the bathrooms here, senior Xuan Kusek said, “Respect the space, realize that the custodians try their hardest everyday to make this a good environment for all of us. The more you treat the bathrooms with respect, the better the custodians will feel about doing their job. If everyone does a little thing, like pick up a paper towel that’s on the floor, not sitting on the counters, or wiping the toilet seat after you go, it will have a huge impact on the overall quality.”
In agreement with Kusek, McCaffrey said, “You can’t make everything perfect, but you can try your best to make it better than what it was.”
I was terrified. My son had been drafted into the war. But it wasn’t even a war, it was politics. I didn’t want him to fight a war for the politicians.
After hearing much about America and its opportunities, the Pivazyans rendered the country a good place to migrate to. With her husband and two children, Pivazyan arrived with some English learned in school.
After studying chemistry in college, Pivazyan wanted to work as a chemist; crazy hair, lab coat and all. However, after her daughter was found to need special attention for an illness, she decided to leave the laboratory to teach in schools.
“I worked as a Chemistry teacher to be close to my daughter and as a professor at a university at night. I didn’t want to be a teacher though,” said Pivazyan.
After coming to America, Pivazyan knew she had to grow accustomed to the language to get back on track with her teaching career. After getting employed at Walmart, within that first year of arrival, she became fluent in English. Not too long afterwards, she was hired as a chemist, but wasn't completely satisfied.
“I worked as a lab scientist, but I had missed teaching. My boss begged me to stay, but I said I must go back to teaching,” she claimed.
When asked if she could change anything about her journey to America, Pivazyan said she would only change one thing: moving here earlier in her life.
“I would liked to have come earlier, for my kids to grow up and go to the universities here. The schools here, especially the universities are great. It would have been nicer to get a job here earlier on too,” Pivazyan expressed.
Even though she had left behind a country full of friends and family, Pivazyan says she wouldn’t have had it any other way. She claims she would have moved to America, regardless. Of course she misses her homeland and those left behind, but America is her home now and she’s proud to be an American.
“I love this country. I’ve been here for twenty years now; it’s my home. It’s where my family is.”
Giving thanks is a concept that is not practiced enough during the month of November. This month is the perfect time to appreciate those who support you and push you to be a better you.
With that being said, this November, PrideTime decided to showcase McMahon students giving thanks to any adult in the building that they are thankful for, the variety of people chosen by students ranges from cafeteria attendants to paraprofessionals but they all have one thing in common. Not only do they help make our school climate better, but they have an individualized relationship with the students that chose them.
Let's take a look into who some of the McMahon students are thankful for this November.
I’m thankful for Mrs. Stockfish because she is always there for me. She lets me stay with her in her office whenever I need too.”
“I’m thankful for Mr. Wagenberg because he is better than any other math teacher I’ve had and he teaches his lessons in ways that are personalized for the individual to understand.”
“I'm thankful for Diamond because she’s always there whenever I need her.”
“Ms. Q is my favorite teacher because she makes her classes fun and enjoyable. I know I can depend on her and she cares about everyone personally, not just grade-wise.”
“Mr. Ingalls lets me rock when I have off days. He’s approachable and always there when I need him.”
“I am thankful for Mr. Mullens because he is free-spirited and I love going into his classroom to talk to him. Even though he isn’t my teacher, he’s so funny and a lot of teachers aren’t interactive but he is, he’s just so fun to be around.”
“Epstein provides interesting topic and viewpoints to his students. He improvises within the classroom and allows us to further our thoughts on his given topics instead of making us follow specific guidelines within the classroom. All in all, Epstein is not only a humorous friendly face but he is also one of the most interesting teachers in the building.”
“Mrs. Peckham relates to everyone my age because she has a daughter within the same age and she makes her classroom fun.”
“I’m thankful for Fleming because he’s always been there for me and he’s funny.”
“I’m thankful for Ms. M because she cares about me and she’s super friendly. She takes her time to teach me important life skills.”
“Eddy is always happy and he always puts a smile on my face by showing his kindness.
I appreciate his enthusiasm, and I think we need more people like him.”
“She’s there to help me through everything, she’s really like a second mom to me. I look up to her.”
All in all, November is known for the ideal time to show how thankful you are to those who support you, however, you should take the time out of your life each day to appreciate those around you. McMahon’s school climate is largely affected by the relationships the students maintain not only with each other but also with the staff. This November spread kindness and gratitude, we here at PrideTime are thankful for all of our readers.
She explains how she likes the way Julia Roberts in the 90’s would dress and that she has been someone that heavily influences her fashion sense as well as the fashion editorials she would read in magazines.
“I started getting more into fashion when I would read magazines… and that got me more intrigued… I look up to Julia Roberts back in the 90’s… I always try to include vintage pieces in my wardrobe,” Cortez said.
Her current favorite brand is Guess because she enjoys throwback pieces from their past line.
She continued to state, “My favorite brand would definitely have to be Guess. Guess has a lot of different variety of clothing, I like throwback Guess... Guess now is nice but throwback Guess pieces are hard.”
She enjoys throwback pieces from their past line, she also gets inspiration from the musical artist she listens to now such as Frank Ocean and Mac DeMarco.
“The way they dress is so nice, it makes me want to add more pieces similar to theirs.”
First, an easy tip is buying the right products, here’s a general list of what you'll need to buy, these items can be found at CVS or your local drug stores:
My second tips are optional but useful, you should get your eyebrows waxed or plucked. From my personal experience, I prefer waxing because it hurts less. Waxing is quick and painless meanwhile plucking is a little more time consuming, it does provide more shape.
The third tips are how to line your eyebrows perfectly, you should use a brow brush or brow pencil. When lining your eyebrows you should start at the bottom, then to the top. After that you should brush up the eyebrow with the spoolie, so your eyebrows won't look messy.
If you can’t line it perfectly, you can use eyebrows shaping stencil cards that are available at local stores. To fill in your eyebrows, you should use brow powder or the pomade. When you're filling in your eyebrows you should start at the center softly, then go to the tip of your eyebrows.
Make sure that you're blending as you go because you do not want to have your eyebrows super dark!
Lastly, here’s what Brien McMahon High School student, Ana Torres says, “I do my eyebrows by using benefits eyebrow pencil. I start with the arch of my eyebrow and then the tail of the eyebrow and then start to fill in the rest of the eyebrow and if I’m not lazy or if I have more time in the morning I’ll fix the eyebrow a little by concealing the sides of my brow making it look more sharp and clean.”
I personally know by experience that it’s a lot of work to do eyebrows, especially if you have never tried doing your eyebrows by yourself before. So hopefully after reading this article, it’ll help you create the perfect brow.
The blame, shame, and stereotypes expressed by so many others simply told Adrianna to give up.
“Stereotypes and blame do not stop teenagers from engaging in unprotected sex or discourage teenage pregnancy. They simply keep teenage parents from seeking the help and support they need.”
Most people, even within Adrianna’s family, assumed she wouldn’t be able to do anything and would be dependent on government assistance for the rest of her life. But Adrianna wanted to be someone her son could be proud of.
Every day, Adrianna motivated herself to go to school and continued pushing herself for both her and her son’s future. In the beginning, when she found out she was pregnant, she was shocked.
“I was scared. I cried because in my past relationship, I was pregnant and I had a miscarriage that affected me for so long and I didn’t know what to expect.”
Adrianna’s world fell apart. She had no motivation to do anything. Adrianna didn’t want to go to school or go out with friends, she just wanted to give up on life. One night, she sat in her room and prayed out loud for acceptance. Adrianna wanted to change, she’d been depressed for so long and she wanted to move on and do better for herself. “The next day it was like I was healed.” Adrianna felt relieved.
A new chapter had begun. Adrianna was blessed with her baby boy, Jeremiah Lindell Edwards. “He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I was really happy when I had him. The first thing I felt was love. Unconditional love.” It was hard for Adrianna in the beginning because she was worried about her pregnancy, but the doctors always told her to take it easy and to breathe. Adrianna had a friend that recommended her to a group called “Young Lives”. This is a group of young teen moms who meet twice a week for help from one another, to have a good time, and to talk about setting goals for themselves. Everyone was so welcoming and helpful. I wasn’t scared to be myself at group, I was comfortable and it felt like home to me.”
Some advice Adrianna gives teen moms is to not let being pregnant stop you from getting your education. “You’re going to have a lot of negativity, even from your friends. They’re going to say how dumb or stupid you were. But you know what? Those weren’t true friends to begin with. Don’t let them hold you back from anything or doing anything. Be true to yourself and ALWAYS go with your gut feeling.” These bits of encouragement are what kept Adrianna going.
Whether you or someone you know is about to become a parent, just remember that every experience is different. People have it easy, people have it hard. You go through it alone, or you have all the support in the world.
Climate Change is one of the biggest issues of the century. As a human race, it’s one of the biggest problems we’ve had to face. Global warming is scary; polar ice shields are melting, destroying numerous ecosystems, causing sea and temperature levels to rise.
The main cause of the current global warming dilemma is something called the “greenhouse effect,” warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space. This heat comes from human-induced gases through the burning of fossil fuels. Although we may not be able to face this problem head-on, as most of us aren’t CEOs of the companies who are the primary proponents of Climate Change, there are things we Senators can do to help reduce its frightening effects.
Through advertisements on most social media platforms, it’s probable we’ve all heard of some small things we can to do advocate for the reduction of Climate Change and its effects. You’ve probably heard about wasting less plastic and investing in reusables. Sarah Signore (‘20) knows of some small things we, as a school and individuals, can do to preserve the future.
“I’ve heard a lot about replacing plastic with reusable supplies. Like replacing plastic straws with metal straws.”
As a species, we use a lot of plastic. Every year, we produce more than 300 million tons a year! That’s the same weight as 1,000 Empire State Buildings. Now, what does plastic have to do with Climate Change? Isn’t that just an environmental thing? Nope. Many plastics actually give off powerful greenhouse gases as they break down, advocating Global Warming. LDPE (low-density polyethylene) plastic releases gases at the highest rate. Over time, plastics give off more and more gas, leading to a change in climate. The planet gets hotter, and the plastic emits more methane, further encouraging the endless cycle.
Recently, the idea of reducing water usage has earned attention. Turning off your sink while you’re brushing your teeth and taking shorter showers has been a message flashed all over social media. As it turns out, being smart about your water usage does contribute to carbon pollution reduction. It’s a simple concept; the more water you use, the more power required. The more power needed, the more energy needed, leading to an increased burning of carbon dioxide.
Camille Clark (‘20), says she’s been trying to be more water-efficient, “I don’t really know the science behind it, but I heard taking shorter showers and pretty much wasting less water would help with climate change. I try to turn off water when I’m not using it and just, in general, waste less.”
It’s going to take a lot to reverse climate change, but there is something the McMahon student body can do to promote change. Sure, we can’t immediately reverse global warming, but by doing the little things, like being smart about plastic and water use, we can unite against the frightening effects of climate change and preserve the future of the planet.
Feel free to send us your Halloween photos to our official BMHS Instagram page @bmhs_Pride_Time!!