SCRIBES: Mental Health Week at St. Thomas Aquinas

by Christine Stornelli, St.Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School

 Featuring the work of young journalists from Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District High Schools

During the week of October 9, St.Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School (STA) in Tottenham hosted a week dedicated to mental health awareness. Students enjoyed a motivational speaker, therapy dogs, and most importantly, pizza.

On October 10 STA created the “Death Cafe”. At the “Death Cafe”, students answered questions about mental health and were then rewarded with a slice of pizza. When asked what they thought of the “Death Cafe”, a group of students said that it was a good way to get together and talk about important mental health issues.

On October 11, students and staff welcomed motivational speaker Juan Bendana to the school. Juan talked about his life experiences and told stories about his past. He gave advice based on things he’d been through to guide us in the future. Juan talked about conquering fears, and becoming who we want to be in the future.

A story that Juan told us that really stood out was about a time he went horseback riding. There was a snake in his path to the horse he was riding threw him off and ran in the opposite direction. Juan told us that this snake was extremely venomous and if bitten, victims only had 30 minutes to get to a hospital. His nearest hospital was one hour away. He said that despite the fact that there was a poisonous snake just one foot in front of him, he had to get around it. While his recollection of the event was very funny, it can be used as a metaphor for our lives. Something may be in your path, something even as small as a snake, but you need to find a way around it or you can never move on. He told us that it was up to us to make our dreams come true – it’s up to us to get around our “snake”. Grade 10 student Valentina Nobile described Juan’s speech as inspirational, motivational, and moving.

The next day, students spent some time with service dogs. They talked to the owners of the dogs and learned what they are trained to do. Therapy dogs are good for people with mental illnesses as well as other disabilities. These are the dogs that you may see walking in stores with special vests on. These dogs are trained to know when they are needed by their owners and know when they need to be calm in certain situations. I think we can all agree with Grade 10 student Callum Greenhow, “everyone loves dogs, so what better way is there to spend a lunch period then to meet some puppies!”

Students and staff at STA are very proud of everyone involved in organizing this year’s mental health awareness week. Mental illness is such a big topic that needs to be talked about so it can be brought to more people’s attention.

Hopefully, it will become an annual event at STA!