Stop the Stigma, a student-led club at Weatherford High School, isn’t just about connecting students with mental health resources but also to prevent mental illness from becoming a punchline.

“People aren’t as afraid to talk about it as they are not afraid to joke about it,” Stop the Stigma President and WHS senior Katlyn Don Carlos said. “I think that’s kind of made them desensitize the entire issue.”

Stop the Stigma started up in 2017 after a group of students expressed wanting to change the culture on campus regarding mental health awareness, Stop the Stigma Sponsor Lesley Cathey said.

Don Carlos found out about the club through a booth at WHS’s counseling center.

“I had never really seen that before. I had never heard of anyone talk about mental health at the school before,” Don Carlos said. “So I wanted to join to see how you get involved in that.”

The club currently has about 17 members of seniors, juniors and sophomores, Don Carlos said. During more busy times of the year, the group tries to meet once a week.

Stop the Stigma is more active in offering resources to students on campus during awareness months such as Mental Health Awareness Month and Suicide Prevention Month, Don Carlos said. The club will set up booths during these months, hand out pamphlets, address student questions and talk about joining the club. During Mental Health Awareness Month in May this year, the club is planning on soliciting signatures from their peers to take the pledge to stop the stigma.

Club members participate in Red Ribbon Week on campus, which warns against drug addiction, the Day of Silence with the school’s Gay Straight Alliance club and the suicide prevention awareness Out of the Darkness Walk in Fort Worth. In fact, getting students to come out for the walk is one of Don Carlos’ proudest moments from the group.

“That was really interesting to see not just students but the entire community come together to kind of prove how important this issue is to a lot of people, and show that even outside of school, a club like this can have an impact on the community,” Don Carlos said.

The club also takes part in the “no one eats alone” challenge, where the members will sit with someone by themselves and encourage that person to also join their peers eating alone, Cathey said.

“A lot of mental health issues, a lot of it is people don’t talk to anybody about it because they have no one to talk to or they don’t think that anybody will listen to them,” Don Carlos said. “I think through that it shows that people are willing to listen to you. It doesn’t have to be related to mental health, just to talk to you in general, just to be a friend.”

“Take What You Need” boards are another service that the club offers students — the poster boards on campus contain resource cards and motivational quotes hung up on clothesline clippers for students to take, Stop the Stigma Vice President and WHS senior Daniel Yeats said.

“You put things like cards that are supposed to be motivational and helpful,” Yeats said. “They will also have resource cards for suicide prevention, mental health hotlines and the counselors at the school.”

The student body has shown interest in the club and what they do, Don Carlos said. She noted that the generation currently in high school isn’t as timid about talking about mental health issues.

“They definitely don’t take it really as seriously because while we’ve all become more comfortable talking about it, we’ve become more comfortable joking about it, and I think our generation faces more of these issues because of social media and school shootings, all that trauma that has increased in recent years,” Don Carlos said. She added that the issues her generation faces make a group like Stop the Stigma more important than ever.

However, a challenge that the club has faced is spreading awareness of its existence amongst the student body, especially considering high school is a revolving door of new students every year, Don Carlos said. Getting a club together, in general, is difficult in terms of scheduling a time to meet.

Yeats agreed that getting participation is a challenge, and the club needs committed underclassmen to help lead and replace the graduating seniors.

“Hopefully, we can get more members, and maybe even spread to the middle schools and the Ninth Grade Center,” Cathey said.

Don Carlos and Yeats also said they would like to see Stop the Stigma spread across the district. Yeats said the spread to the Ninth Grade Center may help kids connect better to WHS and learn about the health issues that high schoolers face.

“Kids talk about this stuff in elementary school so it’s not like they don’t already know what it is,” Don Carlos said. “If they’re already responding to it then, it won’t be such a problem in high school.”

Cathey said she is most proud of the club’s ability to give students a voice in their school and community to bring awareness to mental health.

“If we can get one person that reaches out for help through this club, then that’s everything,” Cathey said.

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