New program at West Mecklenburg High School helps students

Helping students cope and understand emotions

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - West Mecklenburg High School will now have junior counselors to help students cope with life.

Ger Xiong is a sophomore. She along with 27 other students spent 16 hours and took a test to show they have the skills to counsel their classmates.

"They deal with a lot of stress," Junior Counselor Ger Xiong said. "Not only from school work - especially if they take AP classes - but they deal with fitting into society."

This resource comes at a time when statistics show the suicide rate is climbing for young Black boys.

The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) reports suicide is two to three times higher compared to white boys.

So far, this resource is just in West Mecklenburg High School, but mental advocates wish there were junior counselors in all of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. They think it will help students who are suffering in silence.

"A lot of high school students do go through this," Xiong said. "Go through depression and they don't have the courage to speak up for themselves or they are alone and they don't have anybody to talk to - or understand what they are going through."

Educators believe students having somebody their own age to talk to can possibly save a life. Fonda Bryant who works with National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says students these days are reluctant to talk to their parents about a situation they are dealing with.

“Going to the family it’s like 'oh get over it,” Bryant said. “It’s no big deal - that’s not important, Oh you are crazy, so they shut down and that is the problem and it’s getting worse and worse.”

Bryant says she goes in CMS schools and talks to students. She says after students find out she tried to take her life about 20 years ago, they open up to her. She tells them a simple message that she says they appreciate.

"It's ok not to be ok," Bryant said. "Make it comfortable for them to come and talk to you about anything."

Bryant believes one of the problems is parents and students finding the help they need to keep students' mentally healthy.

"People need to know about the services," Bryant said. "And where they can get their children help."

The advocate has advice for parents.

"Parents put the cell phones down," Bryant said. "Get off the television set. Get off the computer - listen to your children because when they come to you what we think is trivial is not trivial to them, and if you don't listen to them they will find other means to deal with whatever they are dealing with and it might not be positive."

When Bryant goes into the schools she says students are candid with their emotions. She is armed with information about suicide and passes out a green wristband with the number 741741. Students can text that number and they will get the help they need.

“Suicide is the ultimate,” Bryant said. “But you also have incarceration, self-medicating, poor decisions and bad judgement. We see that all the time.”

The junior counselors learned a four-step process when dealing with students in trouble. It is called the ACRA method. That stands for Awareness, Comprehension, Regulation, and Action. The counselors believe that method will help students cope with their problems.

"Whenever you self-love," Xiong said. "Then you start to understand yourself and your emotions and that helps."

There was a $1,500 grant that went toward training the West Mecklenburg High School students to become junior counselors.

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