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Cardinal O’Hara launches mental health initiative

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Two presenters from Mental health Advocates talk to an English class at Cardinal O’Hara High School on Feb. 24, as part of an eight-week mental health initiative of the Mental Health Advocates of WNY. Ben Snyder, left, and Alyssa Erazo, youth peer advocates, discussed mental health, depression, anxiety and other issues with which students often deal in their everyday life.

TONAWANDA — Thanks to funds provided through a grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, youth peer advocates from the Mental Health Advocates of WNY are speaking to students at Cardinal O’Hara High School during an eight-week program. The classes aim at informing students on mental health and self-advocacy.

The initial presentations on Feb. 22 and 24 covered the difference between mental health and mental illness, myths and facts surrounding mental health, signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as when, where, and how to ask for help.

Each week for eight weeks, all students at Cardinal O’Hara will take part in the series during an English class.

“I think this is something all teens should have,” Jacob Joldos, a sophomore at Cardinal O’Hara, said.

“It’s a good thing. The class teaches hope and says to reach out to other kids,” he added.

The classes are interactive with questions ranging from what students think the difference is between mental health and mental illness, statistics on teens who struggle with depression and anxiety and the fact that “mental illness is not scary,” Alyssa Erazo, one of the presenters, said.

“Mental health is the state of well-being that allows you to cope with everyday issues,” Erazo said.

English teacher John Dunne called Cardinal O’Hara’s mental health initiative “pro-active.”

The presenters are trained individuals between 18-30 years of age who self-identify as a person with first-hand experience with social, emotional, medical, developmental, substance use, and/or behavioral challenges as a young person or have received services in any one of the child-serving mental health systems, juvenile justice, foster care, special education, or addiction recovery.

Each two-person team uses their lived experience to promote recovery, wellness, and self-efficacy in young people through the practice of youth-guided and family-driven approaches.

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