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Evers Talks Mental Health with Local Students

By Tom Stankard,

Reprinted with permission

Editor's Note: The following article appeared in the Ashland Daily Press as a follow up article to this original story highlighting the two students, one of which is an LCO Tribal Member, Alyssa Denasha.

Ashland High School students Paula Van Vlack, sitting top right, and Alyssa Denasha, speak with Gov. Tony Evers, sitting top left, and Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez, sitting bottom left, about how mental health is impacting students. (Tom Stankard. Staff photo)

Gov. Tony Evers met with a pair of Ashland High School students Wednesday to get their take on how mental health affects the lives of students in Northern Wisconsin.

In his Tuesday State of the State address, Evers declared 2023 the Year of Mental Health, calling mental and behavioral health a “burgeoning crisis” that is harming both adults and students.

AHA senior Alyssa Denasha and freshman Paula Van Vlack have been selected by school officials to be part of the Centers for Disease Control’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child initiative, and they meet regularly with mental health leaders from around Wisconsin and across the U.S. to discuss and address issues students face.

Alyssa with Governor Evers

Before they can address any issue, the two students told Evers and Lt. Governor Sara Rodriguez, it’s important to make sure everything is discussing the same thing, using the same terms.

“We want to go more into depth about mental health because we kind of are seeing students don't understand what it is. There's a bad tie to mental health, like some students see it as weird or not normal,” Denasha said. “We want them to understand that everyone has gone through something that has impacted their mental health and we’re going through it every day.”

Speaking about mental health can cause students to feel uncomfortable, making them afraid to speak up, Denasha said, and they want to change that.

“We don’t want students be afraid anymore,” she said. “We want this place to be comfortable and safe for students.”

If students all came together to talk about subjects like mental health, Van Vlack said, “we can all make the difference with how we choose to handle things and what we can do for other people.”

With that in mind, Evers asked what roles teachers could play.

“Some teachers are really good at being understanding about what’s going on, but some teachers need to learn how to be more understanding. Because there is a difference between listening and actually hearing what the student is saying and actually understanding. So taking what they’ve been through and what they’re telling me into consideration and actually hearing what they have to say instead of just listening,” Van Vlack said.

Both students told Evers that if funding were available, they would like more safe rooms added to schools, so students who feel insecure or are having a crisis have a place to go.

“We have a room down the hall over there. It’s a very comfortable space where you can go and just chill or take some time for mental relaxation,” Denasha said. “We would like more rooms back there because that room is usually packed. Students often use that space to do schoolwork, rest their eyes, or play games if there’s study hall time.”


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