How health. moves. minds.™ Raises Mental Health Awareness in Schools: A Student’s Perspective

SHAPE America’s new service-learning program — health. moves. minds. — raises funds for schools and teaches kids how to thrive physically and emotionally. It can also increase mental health awareness and improve school culture.

I am a student at Neuqua Valley High School, located in the Chicago area. Last spring, Neuqua Valley was one of 20 schools across the country that piloted the health. moves. minds. program. My school also implemented the program again this fall to raise awareness for mental health issues.

Mental Health Awareness at Neuqua Valley

Neuqua Valley has a mental health club called YouMatter that formed just last year. I joined this club when it started, hoping to help carry out this message. Our group strives to impact others by educating them about the stigma surrounding mental health.

The health. moves. minds. program has helped make an impact, and personally my experience with the program at my school has been amazing!

“People are desensitizing these topics, and the only way to help others understand how critical it is to be kind is through education, which is something we all lack.” — Rahael Javaid

We had a lot of students sign the stigma-free pledge, promising to remain open-minded regarding this topic. Plus, we had the whole school participate in relaxing activities, which gave everyone a break from any type of stress they might have been going through.

Serenity Week: The Health Moves Minds event at Neuqua Valley High School to promote Mental Health Awareness

Our health. moves. minds. Event

At Neuqua Valley, we held an event called “Serenity Week,” with a different focus each day:

  • Monday (Kindness) — Do an act of kindness and post it to social media using #healthmovesminds and #kindnesschallenge.
Kindness Activity at Neuqua Valley High School during Health Moves Minds Event
Students spread kindness by writing encouraging messages on Post-It notes in all the hallways.
  • Tuesday (Mindfulness) — Be mindful about your screen time on your phone and other devices and get the lowest time in your phone app today.
Mindfulness quotes from teachers
Teachers shared mindfulness quotes with their students.
  • Wednesday (Empowerment) — What makes you feel empowered? What makes you different is a strength not a weakness. Write “I Am” statements in PE today.
Empowerment Day at Neuqua Valley
This empowerment puzzle shows how we are all unique, but we fit together well.
  • Thursday (Advocacy) — Talking to someone is the best way to advocate for yourself or someone else. Get a green bracelet in the cafeteria today to show your support against stigmas.
Stigma Free Pledge for Health Moves Minds event at Neuqua Valley
Students signed the stigma-free pledge and received green yarn bracelets for mental health awareness.
  • Friday (Gratitude) — Show gratitude by thanking people. In PE, write down someone you are thankful for and why and then post it on a gratitude tree.
Students create Gratitude Trees at Neuqua Valley High School during their Health Moves Minds event
We created four “gratitude trees” — one for each class in our school!

Student Reflections on Serenity Week

Here are some quotes from other members of YouMatter about our health. moves. minds. event and how it impacted them:

Gianna Belcastro Headshot

“One thing I enjoyed about Serenity Week was how more people were starting to promote it and talk about it. One impact it had on me was that it started to make me realize that I had other people by my side at school if I needed anything.”  

— Gianna Belcastro, Head of Communications

Jade Huang Headshot

“What I enjoyed about Serenity Week was seeing the unity it brought to Neuqua about a topic that is not spoken about enough. The impact it had on me was that it made me realize how strong of an effect advocacy can bring upon a community.”  

— Jade Huang, Secretary

Rushil Vellala Headshot

“One thing I loved about Serenity Week was the “gratitude tree,” as never before had I seen such love and interest go towards simply saying thank you. People flocked the tree and added teachers, friends and family, and I was utterly amazed how they didn’t have any second thoughts in doing this act. It was just natural to express gratitude, and that’s awesome.”

— Rushil Vellala, Vice President

Eva Topolewski Headshot

“One thing I loved about Serenity Week was seeing teachers and other students do our activities and see our ideas really come to life. It was great to see people talking about mental health. It impacted me by being able to start conversations with my teachers and friends about mental health, when I otherwise wouldn’t have.”

— Eva Topolewski, Head of Communications

Final Thoughts on health. moves. minds.

I loved this program. The fact that everyone in our school participated in some way made me satisfied because this program really worked.

We included so many other fun activities like a mini photo booth with statements like “You are beautiful” so people could take pictures to “Yo soy” activities incorporated in Spanish classes describing how each student is worth it.

As a teenage girl and high school student, I know the stress that surrounds me and my friends. This is a tough time to live in and we are all trying to figure out who we are as a human being and what we strive for. This program helped ease the stress from school, family issues, or whatever anyone was going through.

I’m so happy Neuqua partnered with SHAPE America on the health. moves. minds. program. On behalf of all the students here — thank you!

Additional Resources

Rahael Javaid

Rahael Javaid is a student at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, IL. She is her class representative and a strong activist for Neuqua’s mental health club, YouMatter, which strives to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health through education. She believes that through deep, educational conversations the stigma that is often associated with mental health will disappear.