Photo by Laurian Gilliland
If there is so much information on mental health available, why is there so much we don’t know?
St. Mary’s is a pioneer in Memphis mental health education. Some schools that are farther out west and in northern states have placed mental health and mindfulness into their daily syllabus, but teaching about mental health is a rare thing in the South, even though there is proof that teaching students about mental health and mindfulness yields positive results.
Ms. Seebeck, the new teacher for the freshman Mind and Body Wellness class, teaches a curriculum steeped in mindfulness, the process of focusing one’s attention on the present. Mindfulness can be practiced through meditation and other exercises, and some freshmen have said that meditating in Seebeck’s room is a highlight of their day because they leave in a calmer and happier state. “This class is honestly just a really good mental break that most students need during the day because school is stressful. Health class and the meditations we do in class just make you forget about everything you are worrying about,” said freshman Abby Neal.
Not only does St. Mary’s have an entire freshman class dedicated to the practice of mindfulness, but the whole upper school was included through discussions of mindfulness prompted by summer reading. The Upper School English Department collectively decided for the 10-12th graders to read “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green. Even though there were many possible books to choose from, they decided it was an easy enough book on a difficult topic that everyone could relate in some way. When asked what she expected students to learn from this book, Mrs. Ray responded, “We mainly thought it would strengthen students’ empathy, but we also wanted students to be as comfortable talking about mental health as physical health.”
If St. Mary’s is educating students on mental health, why aren’t all schools? It has only made students more educated on the matter, and there is no harm in that. There is harm, however, in keeping kids in the dark. “St. Mary’s is definitely moving in the right direction,” Seebeck said, “I think that having the summer book program and just the constant conversation are great starters.”