Durham students band together to get more mental health resources in school

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Friday, May 19, 2023
Durham students push for more mental health resources in school
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A group of Durham students and teachers are stepping up to protect their peers in the wake of violence and tragedy.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A group of Durham students and teachers are stepping up to protect their peers.

It February, a double shooting near campus took the life of a Hillside High School student and injured another. Since then, students have been left mentally and emotionally drained.

"This isn't something you would think happens," Isaiah Palmer said. "You don't feel safe, you're kind of scared, you're nervous."

"Most of the school didn't come that very next day," Matthew Barahona recalled.

Davis Harper and his Social Issues class at Durham School of Technology realized that something needed to be done. The class collected more than 600 responses, mostly from high school students, calling for more mental health days and resources at their schools.

"The district has these days built into the calendar for emergencies. That was an emergency, and the mental health of our students is an emergency," Harper said.

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"We go to school, we have our house life to worry about, we have work, we have jobs, we got other people to worry about," Barahona said. "We should have some days to dedicate for us to take a break, for us to take a breather, to take a step back and realize that our mental health may not be at the best."

That realization pushed the group into action. After several months of work, Durham Students for Mental Health was founded.

In addition to mental health days, the group is also pushing to get more counselors and peer-to-peer groups in schools.

"Cool, it's all good to go to a counselor but at the end of the day we only have one counselor, she has priorities all over the place," Aniya Lindsay said. "There's nothing like having somebody around your age that's going through the same thing and is able to give their perspective and different advice."

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Pascal Mubenga has offered up two extra in-school mental health days. It will be up the school district to determine if those days get approved.

"I am extremely proud of our students for using their voices to bring attention to the effects of senseless gun violence and making recommendations for promoting mental health," Mubenga said in a statement. "I am also grateful for their teacher's ingenuity. Giving his students a safe space to learn about social justice and providing an opportunity for them to enact change through strategic means are teaching and learning principles."

The student group also plans to create a mental health club and build anonymous tip boxes for students to leave suggestions for further improvements.

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