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Burbank students, professionals discuss mental-health issues

Students from the Burbank Unified School District said this week they want their peers and parents to know that those who are suffering from mental-health issues are not alone and help is available.

Despite the school year being over, the auditorium at the Burbank Adult School was packed with hundreds of parents and students attending a mental-health forum Thursday night.

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Joining Supt. Matt Hill was a nine-person panel made up of school district officials, members of the nonprofit Family Service Agency of Burbank, the Burbank Police Department and students who either attend a school in the district or have recently graduated.

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Panel members fielded numerous questions from the audience and answered as many as they could.

Hill told audience members that the district will be holding an open house at John Burroughs High School’s wellness center from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday if they have additional questions.

Ginny Goodwin — director of operations at Family Service Agency, who is in charge of the nonprofit’s school-based counseling programs — outlined the services her organization offers to students, which include wellness centers at both Burbank and John Burroughs high schools.

Although the high schools are out of session, Goodwin said the wellness centers at both schools will be open until 2 p.m. during the summer.

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Burbank Police Officer Geoffrey Snowden talked about the Burbank Mental Health Evaluation Team, a program in which police can assess whether a student who has mental-health issues is a threat to others or themselves, and if the child needs medical attention.

Snowden said the program’s goal is to help the student recover and not just to send them to a hospital for treatment. In more serious cases, Snowden said he or his colleague will make follow-up calls or stops with the child and their parents to see that the student is receiving the help they need.

Though the adults on the panel were able to refer various programs and services students and families can use, many in the audience were more curious to hear from recent Burbank High graduate Meera Varma and incoming John Burroughs seniors Nicole Rojas and Valeria Palma.

Hill said each of the students emailed him when they found out the school district was hosting a forum on mental health and said they wanted to share what they’ve gone through and what they hope to do for their peers.

Varma, who had been dealing with mental-health issues for several years, said she was judged by her friends when she first started going to the wellness center at Burbank High during her freshman year.

However, she said taking care of her mental health was more important than caring about what anybody else thought.

Varma added additional forums like the one held on Thursday are needed to break down the stigma of mental health so fewer students are afraid to ask for help.

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“There are still some things that need to be done — maybe more education throughout the student body about what mental health is, because the more students that are receiving help, the better it will be overall,” Varma said.

“Mental health is just such an important topic in society, especially now. More students taking initiative for their mental health is very important in decreasing the stigma,” she said.

Rojas and Palma have been working with several other peers at Burroughs High to create a student coalition called C.A.R.E., in which students can talk with one another about mental health programs provided by the school district and relay feedback to school officials about how to make those programs better.

Rojas said the group will be working with the Family Service Agency to teach students how to navigate through social media, which she said can be a negative space for students.

“We hope to connect the students to the district, to the wellness center and to everything to be able to facilitate and be a part of bringing in more student input,” Palma said. “Hopefully, it can be something that can be tweaked and used at all the other schools in the district.”

When asked about what parents should do if their child develops a mental-health issue, Varma, who will be going to UCLA in the fall, said it’s OK for a parent to not fully understand what their child is going through.

She added parents aren’t the only ones who can offer advice. Close friends and teachers can also help.

However, she said parents and their children need to develop trust between each other, and sometimes the best thing for a parent to do is just be there for their child.

“Sometimes, it’s not always about finding the solution to a problem,” Varma said. “It’s just about being there for your kid. Whether it’s just sitting next to them and putting an arm around their shoulder, saying, ‘I love you’ or taking them out to dinner. You don’t always have to find the solution to a problem. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and say ‘You know what? My kid really needs me to just cuddle them and nurture them right now.’”

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