Community Forum: A New Student’s Perspective

By: Gabrielle L. (’18)

During this year’s Community Forum, students, teachers, and parents shared brave and personal discussions regarding mental health. The forum focused “on finding ways to combat stigma, provide resources, and normalize conversations around mental health” to support everyone in the Crystal community in feeling “like their authentic selves.” Last week three panels of student and teachers shared their experiences with mental health in impactful ways to audiences of Upper School students, Middle School students and the parent community, followed by a gallery walk of various art installations on the theme of mental illness and stigma.

As a new Upper School student, I didn’t quite know what to expect from the panel. In my school career, I have been to other presentations with a lot of interesting facts and helpful information on mental health issues. Yet these statistics and medical descriptions never really touched me or made me feel. Last week, walking into the theater with my Advisory behind a bustling crowd of freshmen, I certainly wasn’t expecting to leave with a profoundly-changed insight into mental health issues. I was completely wrong.

At the start of the panel discussion, the theater was plunged into darkness as we were shown a TedTalk of a young adult passionately sharing his battles with depression. Looking around, I saw my fellow students transfixed by this young man’s words. The room was silent; throughout the entirety of the video and panel discussion, I did not hear a single whisper from the audience. That impressed me.

Five seniors and two Crystal teachers spoke as the panel. The moment when each introduced themselves and explained why they chose to take part, some with tears in their eyes, I knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary assembly. What did the Crystal student community think? Those I spoke with were incredibly grateful to, proud of, and impressed by the honesty and generosity of those who spoke on the panel. Without any vagueness or skirting around difficult topics, the participants provided detailed and sometimes brutally honest answers to Ms. Lum’s questions. The panelists shared the impact of mental illnesses on their day-to-day life, and revealed some of the best things that friends have done to support them, as well as noting some of the worst. They recounted their personal stories about coming to terms with their diagnoses and the impact of how they shared their struggles with their loved ones.

In my opinion, the panel was extremely effective in impacting our preconceptions on depression and other disorders. After being in the room with our teachers and friends, and understanding how mental illness impacted their lives, it seems so clear that mental illness is not about statistics and ‘problems’. Mental health issues are not removed and distant- they are being endured and survived by our friends and peers. It takes courage to share such intimate details, but through their bravery, these members of our community strengthened all of us and our Crystal community- we all know and feel that we are not alone. In all areas of life, needing help does not equate with being weak; it takes strength to recognize when we need help and to step forward to receive it.  The panel was bold, useful, and eye-opening. It allowed all members of the Crystal community to take a deeper look at this prevalent issue and its impact on our lives. I can only look forward to the other events this year’s Community Forum has in store for us.


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