RICHMOND — It’s OK not to be OK.
That was the lesson Edison Junior-Senior High School students learned during two assemblies on Monday.
Edison was the first district to host the mental health sessions in collaboration with the Josh Merriman Foundation and Mental Fitness of Cranberry, Pa. Speaker Steve Wize, a counselor and motivational trainer with Mental Fitness, said he combined mental health and personal fitness to create his mental fitness mission. The athlete also shared how people can overcome adversity by turning negativity into positive action.
He said people have an average of 60,000 thoughts per day–roughly one per second–and most of them are the same thoughts they had the previous day. Wize noted that one out of six students had a major depressive episode in the past year while one out of three reported persistent sadness. Additionally, one out of five teens have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Despite the severity of teen depression and anxiety, between 20 percent and 40 percent of children did not receive any treatment.
Wize questioned the crowd on how they coped with high school and said there are many stressors teens may endure, such as the demands of life, preparing for the future and social media pressures. He said when they begin to struggle, they should reach out for help, but there were also ways to alter their negative thinking.
“It’s OK not to be OK,” Wize said, adding that youth could approach teachers, coaches, guidance counselors and professionals. “My goal today is to give you practical takeaways. We practice our thinking, and just as we practice, we get better at it.”
Wize cited his Seven Deadly Phrases, including “I can’t,” “I need,” “Makes me,” “Should/shouldn’t,” “Always/never,” “Have to” and “Happens to me,” saying people believe they cannot do something or have to look for happiness when they are capable of achieving their goals and finding happiness within themselves.
He shared stories of famous and not-so-famous people who changed their outlook and had great accomplishments in life. Among them were professional football player A.J. McCarron, who left the NFL to become an XFL player and found happiness; baseball player Andrew McCutchen, whose initial football injury cost him a college scholarship but led to success with the Pittsburgh Pirates; Craig Deitz, a local man born without arms and legs who went on to become a lawyer, speaker and athlete; and tennis icon Serena Williams, who endured racism, health issues and more but became an influential athlete. Wize said Williams inspired a 44 percent increase in Black tennis players between 2019-21, while a record number of Black female players participated in the 2020 U.S. Open.
He continued that 70 percent of people believe they are living the best version of themselves, but eliminating negative beliefs would help everyone accomplish what they are truly capable of.
“When you go through adversity in life, it only makes you stronger if you have the right way of thinking. The world — and high school — is a gym for building your character,” he said. “I want you to reach your full potential.”
He also urged the students to contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or reach out to teachers, school counselors, coaches and others for support if they are struggling.
Representatives of Josh Merriman Foundation were on hand to provide information and other items to promote awareness. The Wintersville-based organization was named for Josh Merriman, a college student who battled depression and committed suicide five years ago. His parents, Bob and Colleen Merriman, and friends have raised funds through an annual golf outing at the Steubenville Country Club to support causes including concussion awareness, mental health and suicide prevention.
“This is the sixth year for the golf outing and the community has greatly supported it,” said Colleen Merriman. “We partnered with Wize and we’re pleased that Edison was the first school we brought this to. If we can save one life, it’s worth it.”
Edison Superintendent Bill Beattie added that the goal was to reach teens so they can get help when they are struggling.
“We appreciate that the Josh Merriman Foundation, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Wheeling and Wize with Mental Fitness have come to the district with a message to our students. Hopefully, the presentation will help them deal with the adversity in their lives.”
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