If you see green bandanas tied to door knobs and backpacks around Gloucester High School, they are meant to signal those struggling with mental health that they are not alone and they don’t have to suffer in silence.

Nearly 500 green bandanas have been passed out at the high school so far among students and staff in show of solidarity for mental health awareness by the school’s student Mental Health Ambassadors.

“A large population of the school’s students has the green bandanas on their backpack,” said Camilla Wilkins, 17, a junior and one of the school’s 20 Mental Health Ambassadors. “And it just shows you can go to your peers for support, and even teachers have them on their whiteboards or on their doors just to show we are open to talk to and we can provide you with resources.”

The Green Bandana Campaign is an initiative of the school’s Mental Health Ambassador program. It comes at a time when students and the wider community face mental health challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pressures from social media, and recent deaths within the school community.

Gloucester High’s student Mental Health Ambassadors are being trained to be peer leaders with the aim of de-stigmatizing mental health challenges while at the same time spreading awareness about resources available both at school and in the wider community, according to Gloucester Public Schools’ Director of Mental Health Amy Kamm. She and health and wellness teacher Rosa Goulart are the program’s advisors.

The initiative, which Kamm said is often done on college campuses, involves passing out green bandanas to students and others who then sign a pledge to be a “trusted friend” for someone they know who is struggling. These students commit to de-stigmatizing mental health challenges and getting a friend who is struggling to a “trusted adult.”

Those who get a green bandana also receive a pledge card that lists resources one can turn to.

The ambassadors

Kyia Karvelas said she became an ambassador last February. She received 75 hours of training, two hours every Tuesday and Thursday after school, from February to June. Kamm said the program partnered with the Justice Resource Institute’s YOUnity Drop-in Center at 6 Elm St., and the state Department of Mental Health to offer ambassadors the GIFT mental health training program. GIFT stands for Gathering Inspiring Future Talent.

Karvelas said about five students went through the course last year to become senior Mental Health Ambassadors. Those new to the program are junior Mental Health Ambassadors.

“We are doing our very best to decrease the stigma here,” Karvelas said, “and we want to go on to bring it to the middle school and the elementary schools.”

Senior Alexa Clements, 18, noted the transfer into the high school can be challenging for middle-schoolers. “Especially with COVID, I feel like there’s been challenges,” she said.

“And a lot of students,” said senior Kaci Orlando, 17, “I’m assuming might not feel comfortable going to a teacher to talk, so we are here as a group.”

Sophomore Jaden Ventura, 15, said he wanted to join because he at times struggles with mental health, but he also wants to help others.

“I wanted to figure out my struggles,” Ventura said, “but I also know that we can help other people.”

Kamm said the ambassadors aren’t therapists and don’t take on the struggles of their peers, instead they are trained to take fellow students to a trusted adult. They are trained in the depression awareness and suicide prevention evidence-based technique of QPR, which stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer, Kamm said.

Senior Ava Donahue, 17, spoke about the recent loss of a friend.

“It was very hard for a long time,” Donahue said, “but I wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen again in my life so I wanted to do this to, like, show to everybody and make sure I can help others not feel that way.”

“I also joined to help others,” said Ann Reed, a senior who is 18, “and let them know that they can talk to people and they don’t have to hide anything and struggle alone. There is help you can get.”

Spreading the word

The Green Bandana Campaign kicked off in the fall with the ambassadors setting up a table at lunch and passing out green bandanas to fellow students to display, along with the pledge card with resources on the back. Students also signed a banner, which will be displayed at the school, as another visual show of support.

“I think it’s a strong visual message of solidarity and support,” Kamm said. “And it brings awareness to mental health struggles as a community that we are all in this together.”

Clements and Karvelas said they have gotten good feedback on the initiative’s Instagram account, @gloucester_mhap, gaining 40 followers in one day and a comment from a School Committee member. Wilkins, Karvelas and Kamm presented the initiative to the School Committee on Dec. 15.

“It just felt so good that this has fast-tracked to that and that we have come so far because that was only the first week in,” Karvelas said.

“Social media can be such a negative thing,” Karvelas added. But she said she has had people reach out to her through Instagram who want to bring the green bandana program to their high schools.{em}

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or by email at eforman@northofboston.com.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or by email at eforman@northofboston.com.

Trending Video

Recommended for you