When Karen Hoekstra was in high school, there was no “be nice” committee, and talking about mental illness just didn’t happen, she said.
“Had there been those sort of programs they have here today, it would have saved me a decade of going ‘What’s wrong with me?'” said the 1998 graduate, who now works as a graphic designer. “If my talking about it can help one student, then I’ve been successful.”
Hoekstra spoke in front of the entire junior class on Monday during an assembly as part of the West Michigan “be nice.” mental-health campaign. Assemblies were held for all four grade levels throughout the day, with different speakers for each one.
Be nice. committee president Emilia Mironova and vice president Traci Merriman put together the assemblies as a “be nice. reboot” since none have been held for two years, Emilia said.
The be nice. initiative was started by the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. Currently, some 120 schools in the area participate, said foundation Director Christy Buck.
Rebooting before the holidays makes sense, Traci added.
“On top of the time of year itself, a lot of students are really starting to feel the stress,” she said.
Other committee members took the stage to offer their own takes on how to handle stress, and to make sure those in the audience know their faces as classmates they can talk with about mental health.
“I tend to not handle stress very well,” admitted committee member Grace Warsen. “The challenge of any kind of stress is how you deal with it and push forward.”
And it’s that help-seeking that’s key, Hoekstra told students.
“My first two years of high school I was a straight-A student,” she said. “I was in music and after-school programs. But junior year I just stopped caring. Somebody should have noticed this, that it wasn’t right.
“Reach out to somebody,” Hoekstra encouraged. “Don’t let it go. You have great people here you can go to.”
Be nice. efforts around Kent ISD:
- Be Nice Initiative Encourages Positive Actions in Schools
- A Friend’s Message on Suicide: ‘This is for Real’
- Students Speak Out About Mental Health