By Derek Tyson
The Welch News Editor
WELCH, WV – After an empowering time at the iBELIEVE Foundation’s Summer Leadership Camp, local students came home ready to make a difference in the lives of their fellow classmates.
iHelp Prevention is a student formed group spanning multiple states, creating a student network dedicated to ending the stigma of mental illness and suicide and offering a caring ear for any inner issues, no matter how big or small. The local chapter at Mount View High School has 12 members.
“A few of us went to the Leadership camp over the summer and we noticed there was a crisis of mental health and the stigma around it and suicide in the Appalachian area,” said Miranda Osborne. “We wanted to create something for the school to help battle that, so iHelp was created.”
Last Monday, the iHelp team gave a presentation for fellow students about these issues, offering statistical data, personal stories and time afterwards for students to share their troubles. Ultimately, the core mission of iHelp is not to give advice, but to listen, send positivity and enforce that things will get better.
“During the presentation, we asked if anyone knew someone that had committed suicide or if they had contemplated it themselves,” said Megan McGraw. “The room got really quiet so you could tell no one had really asked them that before. A lot of people raised their hands, too.”
Some of the iHelp members shared personal stories of their own lives, which they felt helped establish a connection with the students.
“It gave them a more personal connection to the subject of mental health and made them take it more seriously,” said Osborne. “By asking everyone to show their hands, it helped them see they weren’t alone. It might have gave them hope.”
Some of the students confided in the group after their presentation, as well as in between classes.
“One of them said they appreciated what we were doing because they had always felt like they couldn’t talk to anyone,” said Arminda Ferrel. “We’re students too so they feel more comfortable confiding in us.”
“Another student came up to me and said ‘I can’t stop thinking about your story so if you need anything, you can talk to me too,’” said Osborne.
Carolyn Falin, Superintendent of McDowell County Schools, was personally invited by the iHelp team to the presentation. She praised their efforts highly in a recent Board of Education meeting.
“Not one adult was involved, just students getting up to speak about suicide prevention and laying out opportunities for students that need support or help,” said Falin. “They let them know where they would be and things they could seek out. Really, they did a great job.”
“It’s by students, for students which is the best thing,” said Madison Wagoner.
“We created a safe space for them to come and really be open and honest about what’s going on,” said Abigail Bishop, something a number of teens don’t feel they receive from adults.
“The students feel safer with us because this isn’t part of our job, we’re not mandated. We’re choosing to do this,” said Sam Dudgeon.
“It’s a way to help validate their feelings,” said Marla Brown. “I know a lot of times when I was younger, I would be really upset and try to talk to some about it. They didn’t really understand, brushing it off as something that’s not a valid emotion to feel. But we can give that validity back.”
Every Wednesday during the homeroom period at school, various iHelp members will be available in the conference room for any student needing to talk about what’s on their mind.
“They can come to us anytime, though,” said Brooke Bailey. “Even though we can’t really give advice on what they should do, we can be the gateway to getting help from counselors.”
While the students at Mount View High School are doing their part, they made sure to credit the other students they met at camp this summer.
“The whole program was created by spending a week with other kids you don’t know and you meet the front side of them at first, not the inside,” said Taylor Chapman. “But in the group sessions, people began to open up and that made us realize that people are going through a lot of things.”
“A lot the kids at camp came up with the ideas, created the Facebook page and Instagram,” said Brown.
“We’re in the southern most county of West Virginia and there’s a kid in Ohio running the Facebook page,” said Osborne. “That’s how far this spans.”
For the future, the group hopes to expand into nearby River View High School as well as into the earlier grade levels, even elementary school.
“We instill the sense of ‘I’m sick, I should go to the doctor,’ so why not treat mental illness the same,” said Bishop. “That’s a better way than saying ‘Oh what’s wrong with you’ or ‘Why are like that?’”
“Seeing people your own age do something like this means a lot to young people,” said Dudgeon.
“You realize people care,” said Wagoner.
You can keep up with the iHelp Prevention team on Facebook @ihelpprevention as well as on Instagram. The next goal for the team is to hold a similar presentation for students at Mount View Middle School.