ALEXANDRIA, VA – An after-school club called KeepIt360, which held its meetings at T.C. Williams High School before the pandemic, has been awarded a mini grant by the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Northern Virginia (SPAN). The club is co-sponsored by the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria (SAPCA) and the Alexandria Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy (ACAP).
KeepIt360 received the award for their efforts to promote mental health wellness and activities focused on self-care. The club gives teenagers opportunities to speak openly and honestly about issues impacting the Alexandria community. Its members also plan and participate in events led by SAPCA and ACAP.
“Young people can be a powerful, driving force behind this kind of positive culture change,” said Noraine Buttar, the City of Alexandria Youth Development Team Leader who serves as Alexandria’s representative on SPAN’s Advisory Board. “One component of effective Youth Development Programs, which the KeepIt360 club employs, is a focus on youth-adult partnerships. These partnerships take place when youth and adults plan, learn and work together, sharing equally in the decision-making process.”
Last February, KeepIt360 held meetings about mental health and self-care. During several meetings, members were asked and encouraged to share their knowledge and attitudes about mental health. For one gathering, a guest speaker discussed mental health, provided resources to attendees, and dispelled associated misinformation. One of the activities for that meeting involved designing self-care kits.
“By participating in these activities, club members gained information about signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression and were able to learn healthy ways to manage stress,” said Emma Beall, who coordinates SAPCA and co-facilitates club meetings. “It was truly a joy to see the excitement among students as they created self-care kits tailored to their interests.”
Mental health is as important as physical health but is often overlooked because of the stigma attached. Most people are uncomfortable talking about subjects such as depression and suicide. But that has to change, because in the United States, it is a fact that one out of five people struggle with a mental health disorder during their lifetime.
An Alexandria survey found that 17 percent of students in Grades 8, 10, and 12 felt sad or depressed for most of the month prior to participating in the survey. Eight percent of participants reported they attempted suicide at least once.
The members of KeepIt360 and their efforts can certainly influence a change. Removing the stigma of mental health issues and starting a dialogue can get people help and save lives.